Meet Mexican Summer's Jess Rotter, Whose Art You've Probably Already Enjoyed
It all started for Rotter, a Long Island native, back at Syracuse University, where she majored in painting after nurturing her visual art inclinations since childhood. While in college she started doing music-related T-shirt and sticker designs for the British label Birdie--"I was going to England twice a year to do these hand-drawn prints for them"--and during summers she made inroads toward a career in the music industry by interning at Mo' Wax. After graduating in 2002, she got a job as a publicist at Girlie Action, where she pitched the bands she was working to the press and, on the side, successfully pitched her own artwork--primarily quasi-psychedelic portraits of musicians rendered in curvy inked lines and bright, bold watercolors--to various publications.
As always, it was music that fed her art. "Records are so emotional to me," she says. "Rotter and Friends--my friends are my records, I think music is my friends."
Rotter lets out a laugh. "Well, it's all different things. It's the records. It's my friends passing on music to me that I've never heard before. One of my best friends, when we were first friends, he sent me a mix when I was going through a bad breakup when I was 26. It had Gene Clark, Judee Sill, Waylon Jennings, Mickey Newbury--this crazy mix that he called 'Boot Cuts,' and it was like somebody sent me a bible. I was already in that period of that stuff being an influence on me, but then I was like, 'Look at these songs, look at these artists.'"
"Rotter and Friends sort of erupted shortly thereafter, like, 'People need to know about this music!'" she continues. "So when I'm making a shirt, like I've done of Judee Sill and Gene Clark, the 'Friends' in Rotter and Friends is like, 'My friend has passed this on to me, and now I want to pass this on to you.'"
A few years back, she started teaming up with Light in the Attic to design R&F shirts in conjunction with the label's releases by Lee Hazlewood, the Louvin Brothers, Jim Ford and others (the new Rodriguez shirt is one of R&F's biggest-ever sellers).
Rotter and Friends' big breakthrough came in 2011, when actress Natalie Portman--who'd previously been spotted (and photographed) wearing R&F T-shirts--shouted out Rotter's Captain Beefheart shirt in In Style magazine. "That's a really big marker in my career because I was getting incredible letters from men in their '60s who were so thankful--I was the only place you could get a Captain Beefheart T-shirt--and I was getting letters from young girls who want to be Natalie Portman, like, 'Who is [Beefheart]?' That's kind of where it all came together and the name started getting out there a little bit more, and then the work just started flowing."