Why Concert Posters?
My parents are artists. When I was growing up they made a decision to throw the television out of the house. I was the oldest, with a younger brother and sister. It was an experiment, like in that book, "Lord of the Flies". Deprived of our electronic authority figure, they wanted to see what we would do... naturally we burned the house down. But as artists, my parents happened to have tons of art materials all over the house. I guess they had faith that we would explore every artistic possibility rather than succumb to boredom. They trusted that any person under these circumstances who was encouraged to explore their creative energies, would develop them. It was a good strategy, we are 5 out of 5 artists, of which I am probably the least talented. Hence, I do concert posters.
We were encouraged to draw and paint and read and appreciate all forms of music and literature and art. Since early childhood I was a fan of political, theatrical and music posters because of the way they combined the image with the info. When done properly it was a complete artistic package that worked on many levels. In school I loved to draw and paint editorial artwork, art that had a message or made an interesting comment about society or made one think a little bit.. But , I hated graphic designers because my only exposure to them was when they took my artwork and slapped their text over my art.
How did you get into designing concert posters?
I had friends in bands and started doing flyers for them, and I learned that graphic design was cool when I did the art and the type all myself, I used the type as part of the art so it did not interfere with my image. I had control over the final product and I could sign my name to it it was my concept and artwork from start to finish, no compromises, just like fine art to a certain degree.... and as word of mouth spread from the bands I was doing artwork for, I started getting more work and it sort of grew out of that...
At the same time, my very first "real" commision for a poster was for a political march and demonstration calling for unity and equality after the big Los Angeles uprisings/riots of 1992, on Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday. My posters were pasted all over downtown LA, and Jerry Brown, who was running for President at the time, called to congratulate me on the great message of my poster. After that, I was hooked on the artform. Here was a medium where I could express myself, create my own concept and artwork and still get published and make a little money, too. But then I thought, hey, why limit my art to promoting good and fighting for justice? Why not create something for the resin-damaged rock lover to paste over his rat holed walls? Something colorful and obnoxious to make my relatives think I was taking drugs. So the concert posters began and they did pollute the land. In 1995 I was invited to the Rock and Roll hall of Fame for a poster art retrospective after I did the album cover for Neil Young and Pearl Jam's "Mirrorball" album.
What are your influences? Are you influenced by some of the old posterdesigners?
Influences? Everything and Anything. The Street. Current events. Popular culture. Newspapers. Television. The Media in general. Historical art such as the solidness of Japanese woodblock prints. The ornateness of Rennaissance detailing. The boldness of Russian Constructivism. The sugar coating of Cold War patriotic propaganda. And I go to a lot of operas.
Why do you do it? What do you do besides designing posters?
Its a cheaper high than drugs. I get off on staying up night after night cutting Rubylith with a micro-exacto untill the sun comes up. The city is pretty quiet at 4am. I live for deadlines. Some people romanticize doing this work but its actually a lot of all nighters for little pay except for the positive feedback from the bands and fans, which is always the coolest part anyway. But then you are working on another deadline and dont even have time to go to see the shows most of the time...
In general I like to work with my hands, so i also paint and sculpt for myself, and I like to work on my car. (Its a suped-up hot rod version of an old Volvo P1800 like the Saint (T.V. show) used to drive, but way meaner). I also enjoy backpacking in the mountains, that clears my head and puts everything back in perspective again- but all my influences come from living in the city. I need to leave the city every so often so that when I return the visual LandScrape kick- starts me in the head again and I get new ideas. If I get too immersed in it I sink into the routine of the masses, I feel like I'm stuck in the La Brea tarpits, but fresh air revives my senses and my awareness as an outsider looking into the madness).
How is the process of a poster, how do things start?
Simple, actually. I get a phone call from the band or their management or the record label or the promotor of the show or something like that. The second I hear the name of the band, an idea will pop into my head, Its really weird maybe. Maybe not. I have an instant vision of what I feel will be cool, and its that first vision that i will develop. I always start with the concept. Then i decide how to render the idea. Do i draw it all by hand? Or would a severly manipulated photo look better? After i figure that out i get to work. Usually i hand draw it all with black ink, to scale (the actual size) on illustration board. (If I do decide on using photography, it is after heavy and elaborate manipulation on the computer, not just some sloppy cut and paste crap that some people try to pass as art these days). Now comes the fun part because the drawing is the easy part. The next step is the color process. Every single color I hand separate myself. No "stained-glass" approach of drawing thick black outlines that I fill in with solid colors. I aim for more detail and delicacy, so each overlaying color can become its own separate drawing. If a poster has 6 colors, it means I might draw six separate overlays that all have to fit exactly together for that one poster. This is very technical monotonous "behind the scenes" work that nobody really cares about. It takes much longer to do than the creative part, but i think the end result is worth it, because I have control over the whole product and that is the only way to get that much detail out of silkscreening. I had to teach myself how to draw and prepare for screen printing- no one wanted to share their information. But I have developed a few personal techniques over the years and I think I am finally getting the hang of it. But by then i am delirious from lack of sleep so I am not sure anymore. But i do have the satisfaction of other artists asking me: how did you do that?
How long does it take for a poster, from start to finish?
The longer I can take of course, the better. The problem is always the deadline. Usually I have about a week to do the art and the separations. No matter what though I always wish I had one more day, I work on each piece down to the the last second. Then it takes 1 to 2 weeks to print the posters. The posters are hand printed, one color at a time, so say we print 300 of one layer, then wait for that to dry and print the next color over it, etc. The hardest part is always imagining the poster in color "okay, i'll make this part flourescent red and this part silver, but i am actually drawing it all in black and white. It is not untill the overlays are on the printing press and the color is put through each layer and all the posters are finished then you can see how it all comes together, if the layers fit properly and if the colors actually work okay together. So actually I can not see the poster in color until its printed. The end result is always a surprise. -and often frustrating too. Having worked so hard on the art and preparation and then realizing that I visualized the colors differently can be heartbreaking. I often think "There should have been more yellow in the piece or the red is the wrong shade, or i should have switched colors... this happens a lot. Also, if even one layer is even slightly off register, the whole edition is ruined. Luckily, with my art I am very neurotic and i re-check all the layers to see that every detail aligns perfectly- that alone takes hours of work. The shock of seeing the poster in color is always made easier if the band likes it.
How many of your posters are used to advertise the event? Are those posters stapled to telephonepoles? Where are they on display?
They are not put on telephone poles, they are printed too nicely for that and people would steal them too quickly, so they are put up inside of windows. It varies from city to city, sometimes they will put them up all over, in the windows of record stores and coffee houses and shops, and other times the band and the record company just keep them and they only get put up in the theatre where the show is. Pretty small quantities are made for the shows, around 300. The band gets a certain amount, and I keep some to sell. When my posters are sold out, that is it, they're gone. No reprints. I just move on to the next project.
Are all of your posters done for real promotion?
Yes. If for some reason I miss the deadline, I will not do the poster. Once there was a UPS strike and all the shipping companies were overbooked, so even though I had finished the art, there was no way it could be printed and shipped in time.. of course that was disappointing, but all of my posters are done to promote real shows, not to commemorate shows that have already happened- (like some artists I know do!) So, I just move on to the next project again.
Is there a general message you want to get across with your posters? Does it vary from poster to poster? Is there a common topic that connects your posters?
My messages vary from piece to piece, I am still trying to develop my own visual language. If I have to say there is a message, it is that my criteria for creating posters is the same as that for any work of art, with a lot of thought into its concept, and i wont do the project unless i think it would look good hanging on my own wall. I like to put enough little details in them to deserve a second look, even if I am the only one who notices all the little details... I call my posters AAARGHT! (pronounced ART) because to me they are ART, but done with an underground or comic-bookish style, so I took the comic book expression AAARGH! which is used to describe Action and Pain, and combined it to form what i do: AAARGHT!
From where do you get ideas?
From old political and propaganda posters, and when you think about it, all art is propaganda, Rennaissance paintings promoted the Church and today advertising subverts our questioning of reality. I get a lot of ideas from watching TV now, because as a child i never had one.
How important is the music of the artist on the poster? Does that have an influence on the artwork, to what extent?
I usually always gear my art to the band, I try to match their vibe, either to their album or a particular song, or I try to make it relate to their message or make a pun or satire that would still work with their vibe. I could illustrate this with some examples. But I try to let the posters speak for themselves.
Would you do a poster for any artist? Are there limitations?
Yes, there are limitations. But its weird. I know an artist that will only do "punk" bands because otherwise he thinks it will affect his street credibility, meanwhile he drives around in a luxury car I could only dream of affording..so whatever, I am young, I need to eat. But of course there are things I would not do. There was a band that asked me to do something and I really hated their album so I declined, but then the next year they put out a good album and I worked with them, also there are bands that I have met who are really cool people even though I did not care for their music, and in meeting with them I came up with cool ideas- which are always my priority.
How is your artwork affected by the artists, the management, the promoter?
Usually through word of mouth people just say they like what I do, and to please do domething cool for them. Sometimes the band wants to see a sketch first, so I send them one- but i hate doing that. It is hard to judge a quick conceptual sketch as if it were a finished product, especially when management gets involved- I get great lines like- "will it really be this small? Is it going to be in Black and White? how come you abreviated all the show info?" It's a #@*$@!! sketch, dammit. So, if they dont like the sketch, I just move on to the next project, unless its a really cool band then I will try again and that usually works. If I think the idea is really good and they don't, then I will save it for another band that has a similar vibe, often with greater results. I don't tell them how to play their music you know...
How important is your work to those people?
There is always the decision I make as to how much of the poster should be about the band and how much should it be about my art, to me the art comes first so if I am not excited about the project then I wont do it because I feel the work will suffer. The bands usually have a positive reaction to my work once they see the finished posters. They are usually busy just playing on their tour and don't expect too much. Most people appreciate the idea that someone would take that much time to interpret their music or attitude into a fine art collectible poster. Usually they just expect a flyer or a basic promo with the show time and date. I provide a historical documentation of the event done in an artistic manner. Most shows these days are just advertised on the radio or newspaper, so I feel that it really is a special thing. The visual expression of their visceral agression.
What is the reason you do silkscreens rather than offsets?
Silkscreens look much, much nicer. More of the hand done feel, which makes each poster an original artwork, and it is really true, with silkscreening you can see and smell the paint on the poster. The actual original art is just a black and white drawing on a board with different layers of black and white overlays for each color. It is not untill the posters are printed that the color inks are silkscreened through the layers onto the posters. Also, silkscreening is more dynamic and convenient for the smaller quantities that I make... and because I take so much effort to make my posters I individually remark every poster, (I take the time to draw a little original drawing on each poster in pencil) and I hand sign them too. I say buy them now before I become really famous or homeless.
If you could pick any music act to a poster, who would that be? And can you give us an idea of what it would look like?
I love soul music. What I mean by this is any music that has real soul in it, where you can hear the passion of the singer. Where you can hear their strength to sing about their feelings honestly. That music transcends daily life's monotony or escapism, a spiritual kind of music, that uplifts you because you can feel what the singer is feeling. whether it is really actual great 60's Soul music, or Bob Marley's powerful roots Reggae, or haunting Celtic music or the deep Blues or good Rock music or powerful Opera or concentrative Classical music or trance inducing JouJouka and Hindi music or African music, or whatever new experience I find out about tomorrow. Music is the soundtrack to my day to day life and to all the convenient cliches I like to drop into my interviews. Music is my inspiration.
People ask me what my favorite poster is, and I say: my next one. People ask me how long it takes to me make a poster and I say, its taken me over 20 years to be able to make one in a few days. There are musicians/bands that I really love and would go after them in order to do work for them, and then I also have some very cool ideas that would only work with certain kinds of bands so i have to wait for the right opportunity. So, I am patient. My current favorite musicians that I have really great ideas to do artwork for include TOOL, Radiohead, Roni Size, Portishead, Massive Attack, Pj Harvey, Henry Rollins, Soul Coughing, Robert Bradley, Beck and Leonard Cohen. This may give you an idea of some of my current musical tastes.
Would you be interested in doing posters for European events/bands?
What are your future plans? Is there any specific thing you would like to realise? (e.g. paint the Golden Gate Bridge, etc.)
Go back to school, study fine art and to get a good night sleep. Growing up, my family was very politically active and I want to do something postive with my life as well... posters are cool when you are the youngest guy on the block doing them and you get invited to exhibit at the Rock and Roll hall of Fame, but I am not sure if I want to be doing this at 40. We'll see, I am still young.
What was your biggest success, most remarkable work so far?
Having my artwork turned into giant Neon Billboards on the sunset strip. A big billboard in Tokyo, Japan.
Is there anything i forgot to ask and you would like to add?
Yes, where are all the cute groupies I was promised?
Sometimes there are political/social, I would call it "remarks" on your posters, like on the Rage Against The Machine one, what is your ambition in this sense?
To make people think a little. The Rage poster shows a giant statue of Liberty, a symbol of America and of freedom, but in another sense a symbol of america's abuse of power and manipulation, America the system, the Emperial Oppressor, the Machine. The statue's crown represents the coming together of the 7 seas, but in my depiction it is 7 syringes which i made representing the 7 C's, I drew 7 syringes and each one contains the cycle for the way new ideas are absorbed by the American system: 7 C's: First a new idea is Condemned for being radical or anti-establishment. Then, it becomes Co-Opted and dilluted so it loses its original power and meaning, So that it can be Conformed to and swallowed up by the masses So that they can be Controlled by it as it Consumes them and they Consume it- like a new slogan or Jingle, then it becomes Corrupt and it Collapses, awaiting the next trend... meanwhile in my poster the statue is also choking all of these chained hands that are trying to reach up to it, and it is going to use its syringes to pacify them again so that they will again wear their chains willingly- on the chains are Bar codes, representing the loss of indiduality, they are just masses, consumers.. Also, because of Rage Against the Machine's other politics, on either side of the show info are little aztec gods of death fortelling what is to become of the system... I also have a lot of other hidden stuff going on the poster, like in the dark space where 2 of the oppressed hands are breaking free of their chains there is a secret message that only appears when you hold the poster up to the light at certain angles- a little trick I learned that I put into a lot of my posters- always something extra hidden in them... All of these symbols and concepts and composition are 100% my idea and my imagination, which is what i love most about doing this, and members of the Band have personally told me that of all the posters done for them, this is their favorite. I like to try to make people think.
Why did you choose the name EMEK? Is there a certain meaning to the name?
Well, I am glad you asked that. It is short for the chemekal epidemek that spawned me.