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Artist's gig posters rock his fans' world
[November 27, 2006]

Artist's gig posters rock his fans' world

(Oregonian (Portland, OR) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Nov. 27--Emek stands in the middle of San Francisco's Hall of Flowers, flanked by a toy-strewn playpen and a man with mechanical gauges growing from his bald head.

The exhibit hall's annual rock poster show is about to open. The crib waits for the Portland artist's 1-year-old son. The cyberman, pain-racked, tattooed with circuitry, promoting the rock band Tool, welcomes people to Emek's booth.

"I'm not sure anyone's here for my stuff," Emek says, glancing through a window at the crowd growing in the autumn morning outside. "At least they'll get to see my art up close."

Listening to him, you'd never guess that this soft-spoken 36-year-old, black goatee on his chin, winking skull ring wrapped around a finger, is hailed as a savior of rock 'n' roll.

Not the music, but the art.

In the iTunes age, when music is downloaded out of thin air, sans packaging, people still want art with their rock. The rise of Emek, who recently moved to Portland to find balance as a father and an artist, proves it.

Actually, Emek -- whose handcrafted gig posters will be featured in "The Art of Musical Maintenance 3" exhibit at The Goodfoot in Southeast Portland starting Thursday -- could get away with staying home.

Although he never announces sales of new posters on his Web site, they typically sell out in minutes. Collectors have been known to take shifts, checking his site, posting notices in Internet forums when something pops up for sale.

The Hall of Flowers' doors open, and a crowd rushes in.

Of 40 booths, his is the only one swallowed by a thick mob. Some people practically throw wads of $20 bills.

Someone snags the Tool poster for $500. "It's slightly damaged," Emek warns.

"Doesn't matter," says the man, opening his wallet. He drove four hours to buy "an Emek."

A college-age woman counts out $75 for a Ben Harper gig poster showing tree limbs in a storm taking the shape of the musician's face.

As Emek signs and doodles the bottom of the print, she gushes, "It's amazing." He grins. "It's just ink and paper," he says. "No," she says, "it's more than that."

Praise is cool.

So are the die-hard fans. And CNN and Rolling Stone painting him as the poster child of modern rock. And the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame exhibiting his art.

But Emek also needs peace.

So last summer he escaped from Los Angeles.

Why Portland? There's no short answer. Settling into the art studio in his Northeast Portland home, a big old place with solid bones that needs some fixing, Emek, dressed in black jeans and a black cabana shirt with white skulls, talks about his upbringing.

"The way I was raised, the way my parents raised me," he says, "it's easier to live like that in Portland."

Emek Golan was born in 1970, while his artist parents lived on a kibbutz in Israel. In the states, the family, including Emek's younger brother and sister, lived on property owned by a Universalist Unitarian Church outside L.A., where his father worked as a caretaker.

"We lived in a house that was a horse stable, with dirt floors and no windows," Emek says. "I still remember my dad pouring cement and then laying down cheap linoleum tile over the concrete."

No TV, just a radio and a well-equipped art studio. His parents also stayed active in political causes: social justice, the peace movement, environmentalism.

When Ronni Golan met her future husband, the two teens were in Israel for a yearlong exchange program at an agriculture school. But Emek seemed more obsessed with punk rock than milking cows and shaking grapefruit trees.

"He had put all these punk images, all this angry art, warped and scary, above his bed," she recalls. "I think he was still angry that they made him cut off his mohawk for school."

Today, Emek hardly fits the rock 'n' roll stereotype.

Rather than taking bands up on offers to stay out late, partying backstage, he stays home to tuck in his toddler son. His only tattoo, on his right forearm, is more sweet than jarring: the children's book character the Little Prince standing on a moon.

Sure, L.A. is the center of the music-industry universe. But its creative vibe has become too glossy, mass-produced and corporate for Emek.

For a guy who pays the mortgage with the dying art of silk-screening, Portland's politically charged, do-it-yourself creative class is a better fit.

So is the pace.

Outside the glass door of his studio, a willow tree's leaves ride the wind, its branches swaying, briefly revealing a view of the Cascade Mountains.

"Even though I'm creating art for a tribal gathering, where there's all this energy for a big, loud shared experience," he says, "I need solitude to do it." Meaningful art

Emek cringes at his first commissioned concert poster.

It was for a political benefit after the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

Newspapers everywhere carried the image -- a scratchboard visage of Martin Luther King Jr. rising above a concert crowd -- stapled to the city's burnt-out buildings. "I messed up on his face," says Emek, who studied art at California State University at Northridge.

Still, he realized how a rock poster could be meaningful art. Former California Gov. Jerry Brown, running for president at the time, called Emek to compliment him.

"This was illustrating something historical," Emek says. "It was bold. It felt urgent, important, like a headline from a newspaper."

Computers and offset printing would be easier. But Emek refuses to give up silk-screening, a craft he learned from his father.

Often, he slaves for days over intricate designs, listening to a band's music as he draws, cutting out layers of colors, just to commemorate a two-hour show.

"It's more meaningful this way," he says. "The artist's hands are actually involved. You can feel the ink on the paper. I'm not trying to be Wal-Mart."

The posters, usually made in batches of 100 to 300, are divvied up for the band and promoters, who commission them. Emek gets what's left.

Collectors credit Emek with reviving the gig poster as art more worthy of a living room than a telephone pole.

"The detail is insane, and every poster tells a story," says Robert O'Brien, a San Francisco psychiatrist who collects Emek's art. "This is rock 'n' roll art that my wife will let me hang up."

Emek incorporates traditional styles, from Russian constructivism to Asian woodblock. But he is also known for melding the mechanical with the organic, part of a statement on technology, consumerism and conservation.

Take the poster promoting a show for Ween and the Flaming Lips. A robot riding a robot horse, a green plant in his pouch, bows his head in the middle of a barren field of tree stumps.

"At the end of the trail, tired old robots are the only ones left to mourn mankind's destruction of the planet," Emek explains.

People get it. College professors use his political imagery in classes and textbooks. Some of his L.A. neighbors were so upset with his anti-Iraq war concert posters, including one for Queens of the Stone Age portraying President Bush as a monkey, that they stopped talking to him.

Punk rocker and poet Henry Rollins dubbed Emek "the thinking man's poster artist." Rock star artist

In the Hall of Flowers, fans treat the mono-monikered artist like a rock star, snapping photos as he signs posters. Many had seen Emek's work on eBay, where some of his posters fetch hundreds of dollars, and know exactly what they want. They call them out: Radiohead. Death Cab for Cutie. Bright Eyes. The Pixies. Paul Simon.

"I can't camp out on my PC for his posters," says Glen Greathouse, a Los Angeles research scientist. "Unless all the hoopla dies down, this is the only way to get his stuff."

Emek chats with everyone who buys a poster. Fans explain how their love for a band or a political cause led them to his posters. Some buy posters for bands they dislike, solely for love of the art.

A man says he heard Emek had moved to Portland. Emek smiles, explains how he likes to garden. The water bills in L.A. were killing him. It rains in Portland.

Chuckling, the man shakes his hand and takes his rolled-up poster. Up close, personal, sincere, unlike some of the hundreds of e-mails Emek gets each week.

Lately, the obsessive behavior of a few collectors has spooked him. A couple of fans have e-mailed him, saying they wanted to move to Portland and work as his assistants for free. He has also caught people taking on dual identities, trying to buy extra posters to flip on eBay for huge profits.

He laughs about how things have changed.

Ten years ago, he had a hard time getting record stores to sell posters left over from a Pearl Jam show. "The poster was only $12.50," Emek says. Today, when the poster shows up on eBay, it goes for $1,000.

Back home, a week after the San Francisco exhibit, Emek seems to forget his success momentarily. Maybe it's the sound of his son, Taeo, waking from a nap. Being a dad can be just as scary as being a rock 'n' roll hero.

"When times get tough," he says, "my family knows how to dig ditches."

Ronni, walking into the room holding a smiling Taeo, shoots him a worried look. Emek clears his throat and grins.

"I hope it doesn't come to that," Emek adds. "I'm just saying."

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