Jermaine Rogers wants to hang out with you.
Well, kind of. He has placed two comfy chairs in his new Manitou Springs gallery and studio "for loitering."
But on this quiet Monday afternoon, Rogers hasn't yet arrived. Instead, roughly a dozen tourists and locals roam through his space, called Dero 72.
One guest is a teenager with messy hair, wearing a T-shirt from downtown's Edifice Gallery. The kid's obviously aware of local artist Jason Herzog, whose work is emblazoned on the front of his shirt, but this is his first run-in with the work of the internationally renowned poster artist known simply as Jermaine.
Dero 72 is hung floor-to-ceiling with posters featuring creatures and characters who regularly populate Jermaine's work: fang-toothed Dero bears, rabbits, figures with branches growing from their bodies, Bauhaus and Tool, a pig-bodied character named the Squire. The display is far from what you'd expect to find under the high-end lofts in Manitou's newly renovated Spa Building.
One of Jermaine's assistants, Bianka Groves, explains to the kid that the artist has created posters for Morrissey, Ween, the Mars Volta and Radiohead, among many other famous bands. He continues to survey the gallery, his mouth open, eyes the size of quarters.
Groves, leaving the teen in his state of awe, then wraps up a sale with a gray-bearded man. When the visitors ebb out, Groves tells me the bearded guy bought more than $1,000 worth of posters.
"He couldn't believe how inexpensive these are," she says. Prints adorning Dero 72 (named after the bears and his frequent, mysterious allusions to the number) average $175, framed. But the same prints go for twice that much on eBay, sans frame.
Which begs the question: Why did Jermaine who runs a plenty successful online business decide to open a retail front in Manitou Springs?
Jermaine finally arrives, sits in one of the chairs up front, and updates me on his life since moving to Manitou Springs from Houston, Texas, just over a year ago.
The crux of his story comes back to a desire to contribute to the local arts scene with his paintings that allude to a fantasy world. Take the poster of Yoko Ono and Paul McCartney on the wall.
"See that's the thing," Jermaine says. "I like mixing two unexpected elements."
Beyond the tiny fangs poking out of each character's mouth, he's talking about the fact that no one would ever see the two pop icons together. (McCartney, of course, wasn't a big Ono fan.)
Jermaine also points to a few posters down where another incongruous combo hangs out: Jimi Hendrix and early-'80s-era Madonna. Well-versed in art history, the 35-year-old is sure to mention that he hasn't pioneered this technique.
"That's what Van Gogh was doing," he says. "Van Gogh painting portraits of poor people ... Nowadays people don't realize how revolutionary that was. Portraits were reserved for historical figures, politicians, religious characters."
Jermaine says that Van Gogh's incongruities made him famous. Equally incongruent is Jermaine's location in Manitou Springs, where other galleries showcase renditions of Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak and Western- and Native American-inspired art. His only real worry, he says, is that people will interpret his work as sinister.
"You've got to get away from those old stereotypes that have plagued rock 'n roll art for so long," he says.
The wheel of art
While Jermaine talks, people continue to trickle in. We break while he patiently introduces his work. A skinny, middle-aged guy with a mustache asks Jermaine the price of a large Squire sculpture that he'd like to send to his father as a gift.
Jermaine explains that it's a limited-edition piece.
"We had 30 of them made. They go for $600 apiece," he says, adding, "You go online, they sell for $1,200 apiece.
"But I'm the artist, and I can afford to sell them for less."
The visitor opts to look at some smaller versions of the sculpture on a nearby shelf, and Jermaine returns to say that in New York or L.A., he'd easily command more money for his work.
But it's a different world here. In small cities like Manitou which he first encountered, and loved, as a vacationing child a lot of people have certain ideas about what art is. It can be hard to persuade them to try something new because they find security in those ideas.
He says that even in Houston, where he earned fame making posters for the exploding Austin music scene, people are exposed to a lot more variety in art because it's a metropolitan area.
He equates it all to a wheel, each spoke being another way of looking at art.
"A lot of times, those spokes don't interact with each other," he says. "But they all support the same wheel."
Jermaine wants local artists to come in and exchange ideas with him, noting that some of his recent work has been influenced by the local scenery and surrounding galleries. But he wants more of those juxtapositions. Hence the art space.
Who knows? One day we might see some unexpected, fantastic piece in which two Native Americans and a wolf are dressed as Run DMC. There's a lot of potential in those combinations.
"That's where art can explode," Jermaine says, "where everybody respects that everybody else is doing legitimate artwork."