Art Featured Interviews

IPaintMyMind Exclusive Interview – Emek

Written by:
Evan La Ruffa
Aug 02, 2010

“I put 110 percent into my work…I’m trying to add a sense of permanence to a disposable art form that has the expiration date printed right on it.”

If you’ve ever tried to purchase one of Emek’s prints online, you know how quick they go. Mere seconds, at most. Before you’ve seemingly even had a chance, SOLD OUT appears after refreshing the page for the 87th time.  He’s gained massive popularity in recent years, providing prints for the biggest festivals in the country, including Coachella, Rothbury, and Wakarusa. He’s also created images for the likes of Queens of the Stone Age, The Prodigy, Pearl Jam, and The Decemberists; and has managed to grow a lasting relationship with R&B soul-goddess, Erykah Badu. His attention to detail is the hallmark of his work, and the fact that he relies on hand-drawn images to convey the complexity of his ideas, is astonishing.  He’s quickly become the golden standard of the rock poster world, a standing he’s only validated by continuing to create deliciously methodical art. In a scene whose expansion has meant certain dilution, Emek has single-handedly kept the bar high.  Who you like most is clearly a matter of taste, but this guy’s talent and vision are undeniable.

Henry Rollins dubbed him “The Thinking Man’s Poster Artist,” a more than apt description, considering his growing roster of incredible rock posters and art prints.  Emek’s creativity bridges technology and the natural world, and oozes with character, color, and creativity. It’s no secret why people love his work, it’s delicate and detailed, while offering various intricate sections that you can wander in and out of. His work is dynamic because it feels classic and brand new at the same time. He clearly pays homage to his rock poster forefathers, while looking ahead to a complex future, which is both unpredictable in scope, and beautiful when Emek imagines it on gallery stock.  He acknowledges that concepts are the key, but his skills are clearly carrying him over the top. Emek talks with me about Robert Williams, his late-night drug of choice, and how he feels he’s carrying on the creative tradition.

by Evan La Ruffa

EL: Henry Rollins referred to you as “The Thinking Man’s poster artist,” I’ve always thought that moniker was apt. What artists do you feel that way about?

EMEK: Other posters artists that I admire for their creativity and skill are Jason Munn, Aaron Horkey, Marq Spusta, Arik Roper, Gregg Gordon, and of course Justin Hampton and Jermaine Rogers; but there are so many creative poster artists these days that the list goes on and on…

EL: How do you make sense of the huge increasing popularity of rock poster art? Is it price point? Convergence of art and music that makes it more interesting?

EMEK: I don’t try to make sense of it, I just feel lucky and keep working hard.  Robert Williams (founder of Juxtapoz and master painter extraordinaire) said, “we are in the age of rock and roll, and these are the stimulated visuals of this period of time.

EL: I read that you didn’t have a TV in your house growing up – do you have a TV in your house now?

EMEK: Yes, and it’s my late night drug of choice…

EL: I have a lot of respect for Erykah Badu, I love her music, and love the stuff you’ve done for her projects. Did she aproach you? How’d you two hook up creatively?

EMEK: She approached me about 6 years ago. She was flipping through the book “The Art of Modern Rock” and she said my work spoke to her, so she tracked me down and I’ve been her artist ever since.

EL: All your posters are drawn completely by hand, harkning back to the poster scene in San Francisco in the 60’s. Do you have any bias against digital renderings? Just a different viewpoint?

EMEK: I like ideas, first and foremost. A strong concept is always key, but I appreciate it if someone takes the extra step of putting craftsmanship into the work.

EL: I’m always interested in what pieces the artist herself/himself likes the most, as far as their own work. I find it extremely interesting to find out how success is defined by the artist, as opposed to using critical acclaim as a method for measuring merit…

EMEK: My favorite piece has to always be my next poster….

EL: Fair enough!…What has being creative taught you about yourself, that you might have not figured out say, if you worked at McDonald’s?


EMEK: Back when I did work at places like McDonald’s, I learned how hard you have to work, and how to make do on very little. I realized I couldn’t continue to work at places like that because they didn’t appreciate my creative french fry arrangements. But it’s still a struggle sometimes to convey my concepts to people that don’t understand my creative process. So in that sense, not much has changed.

EL: What music are you listening to these days?

EMEK: When I work late into the night, I like a steady beat that keeps me going, music like Thievery Corporation. However, on my Ipod lately, its been Blitzen Trapper, MGMT, the Killigans, and of course next years Erykah Badu…

EL:How much direction do you take from bands when you make a poster for them?


EMEK: I feel lucky because most bands that come to me are familiar with my work and appreciate what I do, so they usually just say, “Do something our fans will enjoy.”

EL: That’s fantastic man, that’s gotta be a great place to be as a artist…Do you refer to any historical art movement for inspiration or context?

EMEK: Absolutely. I love the fully detailed old wood cuts of Albrecht Durer and also old Japanese wood block prints. Especially from the Ukiyo-e period. But I always start with a concept first, then figure out how I’m going to render it, and then do my research from there. Zap comix is a big inspiration with R. Crumb, Rick Griffin and Robert Williams. I love WWII propaganda posters, old opera posters, Russian Constructivism, basically all forms of old print making. One of my favorite paintings is by the artist Mark Tansey, of  a man white-washing over graffiti and in the process of sterilizing the wall, his paint brush is also white-ing out his own shadow. It’s such a simple but strong metaphor; that’s the kind of depth I’m always striving for.

EL: Do you see yourself as part of a cultural movement?

EMEK: I see myself as part of the great continuum started by Lautrec and Mucha. Then it filtered through 60’s psychedelic poster artists such as Mouse and Kelly – all of this art was used to advertise live music events.  I am now trying to continue that tradition.

EL: Are there any conceptual threads that you wind throughout your pieces purposefully? How do those ideas inform your point of view as an artist?

EMEK: My parents are both artists, I grew up in their art studio. Social justice causes where part of my upbringing and continue to influence my work. Since I moved to Portland four years ago, I definitely draw more trees and water, so the environment and having kids has affected my work (at least) subconsciously.

EL: How do you feel about the term lowbrow? I think it’s a bullshit term some rich asshole made up to derive self-worth from belittling art happening at a lower price point…

EMEK: I’m not sure why it’s called lowbrow since it’s always raising people’s brows (Laughs). But I guess being called lowbrow may be a step up from being called a poster artist. Did I just say that? I love being a poster artist!  I put 110 percent into my work…I’m trying to add a sense of permanence to a disposable art form that has the expiration date printed right on it.

EL: Name one artist IPMM our readers should check out.

EMEK: Check out my dad, Yuval Golan, he was the biggest influence on me…some of is work is on my You Tube page: youtube.com/user/emekstudios

…I also really like this new up-and-comer, Guy Burwell, and as far as music, I’m digging Blue Scholars

More from the Thinking Man’s Artist, at Emek.net

Written by:
Evan La Ruffa
Aug 02, 2010

tags: artist, emek, interview, ipaintmymind, screenprints, the thinking man's artist