Emek Golan

concert poster designer (Pearl Jam)

Israel / US

"The 25 best rock concert posters of all time". On this list of Billboard, the most important trade and industry magazine for music and entertainment in the USA, EMEK is the only artist represented with three works!

Emek Golan

concert poster designer (Pearl Jam)

Israel / US

EMEK | © Private Emek Golan

In the course of his career, he has designed posters for the concerts of many world-famous music acts - from Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam or Radiohead to Paul Simon and B.B.King. His poster for the Coachella Music & Arts Festival 2007 was voted 'Year's Best Rock Poster' by the US concert promoter magazine Pollstar. The cover he designed for the CD 'New Amerykah' by singer/songwriter Eryka Baduh is one of the 'Top 20 Album Covers Of All Time'. The strikingly unique works from his studio, always handmade, are exhibited internationally by galleries and in various hard rock cafés, and are highly sought after by collectors. In his own detailed, multi-layered and meaningful style, EMEK above all builds a bridge from Russian Constructivism to Asian woodcut art and often integrates statements on social or political themes. This is why he was nicknamed "The Thinking Man's Poster Artist". This socially very committed creative is considered globally to be one of the best and most well-known in his field, and is described by the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame and Museum/Cleveland as an "internationally recognised poster artist".

Emek Golan (* 27 March 1970) was born into a strongly artistic family: his father a muralist/sculptor, his mother a painter. The small family moved from the kibbutz in Israel to Los Angeles. Two siblings were born there, who are also successful in the creative field today. Golan himself studied art at California State University in Northridge. In 1992, he received his first commission: the design of a poster for a demonstration and concert on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, immediately after the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles. EMWK is comfortable with such topics, as his commitment to peace, environmental protection and social justice has always played a major role at home.

In his own words, Rick Griffin, a renowned designer of psychedelic posters in the 1960s, and the cartoonist/illustrator Robert Crumb ('Fritz, the Cat') had a lasting artistic influence on him; the opulent "genre bible" (San Francisco Chronicle) 'The Art of Rock Posters from Presley to Punk - A Spectacular Visual and Oral History' (Abbeville Press) is cited as a formative inspiration. However, the name EMEK has long been synonymous with a style of his own. His early works, such as a Pearl Jam concert poster that was once a no-brainer at a price of $12.50, are traded on ebay from $1,500. Although so in demand and overwhelmed with commissions: When it comes to doing something good, the busy man makes time - be it for a poster on the occasion of the 'Tsunami Benefit Gig' in California, a limited-edition silkscreen for the victims of the earthquake in Haiti or for the charity event 'Third Annual Rock and Roll Carnival', which supports children with scholarships and cultural exchange. Politics is also close to his heart. He supported Barack Obama's 2008 election campaign with the poster 'Obama Bomaye'. It was based on the classic sports photo of the boxing match Cassius Clay vs. Sonny Liston in 1964. In his street poster version, a picture montage, the coloured Democrat knocked Republican opponent John McCain to the ground.

A representative and informative cross-section of the work of this exceptional artist, who has won numerous awards, is contained in 'Emek - The Thinking Man's Poster Artist: Collected Works of Aaarght!' (Gingko Press). The 272-page coffee-table book was featured in LA Weekly: "Emek is making concert posters popular again. He reminds us of their cultural significance in an age of iTunes and the imminent disappearance of the record sleeve."

EMEK lives in Portland/Oregon with his wife, an art teacher/sculptor, and their two children.


Interview March 2016

Music & message on paper: the thinking person’s poster artist


The Romanian-French sculptor Constantin Brancusi said about his creation process: “Things are not difficult to make. What is difficult is, putting yourself in the state of mind to make them.“ Before the creativity, there is intuition. Where does this intuition come from, what sparks it? How does it manifest itself – is it only a vague idea or tangible (for example, in pictures?)

I have become very deadline orientated in my profession.  The spark always begins with the client contacting me. Since most of my work revolves around music, the spark I get comes from listening to the music.  I always get ideas from music and then I get excited to begin to draw.

Is the timeframe of intuition only temporary or can it be supported by external factors?

I used to keep a sketch book of ideas that I thought were interesting ideas, but if enough time passes, I look at those ideas and they are no longer as exciting to me. So what I’ve realized is, if I come up with an idea I need to use it while it is still fresh and exciting. Then I am motivated to work on it and finish it. 

Is intuition reliant on spontaneity or is it possible to engage this spiritual resource at any time, consciously? If so, how?

For me the intuition is spontaneous and that’s the spark, but the actual production process of creation is very rigid, laying out one line at a time until the art is finished.

How important is the own physical constitution? Is it true that sadness equals creativity (or vice versa?) To quote the writer Miller Williams: „the saddest joys are the richest ones“…

At the completion of a project there is a sense of emptiness…. not necessarily sadness…as well as a sense of relief.  The greatest joy is knowing that now is the moment that the next deadline is furthest away. 

Do calm and relaxation further the „best“ or is a tight deadline a stimulant for creativity?

A tight deadline. Within that tight deadline, I find my calm. Once I get to work, everything else kind of melts away.

Which place/what environment is best for the creation/work process?

My personal space is where I feel the most comfortable, but I always carry a sketch book with me everywhere I go in case there is some down time.  I can pretty much work anywhere… but the finishing touches always have to be in my space. Otherwise I cannot relax or feel finished. And I go back and forth between trying to create a clean neutral environment and then cluttering it up with all my knick-knacks that bring me joy.

What, if there is a deadline, but no intuition?

Decades of making posters professionally thankfully that has not happened yet…although there are definitely images that I feel more strongly connected to and are among my better efforts that I am proud of.  Some posters I feel were not my best intuition.  If had more time to elaborate and develop the idea, it would have come out stronger…but that is the nature of the job: You have to work what you have - with the time you get.

Before intuition is inspiration the primary catalyst? If so, what inspires you?

Things that inspire me are going to galleries and art shows to see what other creative people are doing.  Dreams inspire me. I get a lot of ideas in my dreams...but it always comes down to once I get an idea I have to follow it through to the end. The idea for the concept is what inspires me and gets me excited to draw.

According to Philip Roth, “amateurs wait for inspiration while professionals sit down and work.” How do you feel about that?

I wish I was an amateur.

How do you separate the good from the bad, how do you know which ideas to explore further, which ones are maybe even ahead of their time, visionary ideas and which are not?

I ask my wife.

What key criteria does the idea need to be viable?

I have to be excited about the idea and I have to be able to express it in a way that is exciting to me. The idea is what gets me excited to draw and if it is not a good idea, it’s no longer fun and I don’t want to do it. It’s never been about the money, it’s always about something that excites me to want to create it. Drawing feeds my soul, but working on something that does not, is the opposite effect. That’s when I feel I’m selling out. 

Do you write down an idea right away (and archive it), because you might forget?

Yes, many of my ideas come to me in my sleep when I don’t have time to sketch them out. I will literally write down a description of my idea and that will trigger my memory later.

Do you feel if an idea has the potential to be something big?

Not always, but I feel an idea has the potential to be something interesting and that’s good enough for me.

How long do you ponder an idea before creatively working on it?

Usually the deadlines are pretty tight. It doesn’t give me much time to ponder. I just have to run with it. There’s never enough time. But it keeps things fresh and I guess that’s where spontaneity comes in. The ideas are spontaneous, but the work required to bring them to life is much more rigorous and controlled. In that regard, my work style is much closer to my dad’s art process than to my mom’s, whose art is all about spontaneity. 


According to novel-price-awarded author Nelly Sachs “everything starts with yearning”. Do you agree?

Yes, I yearn to make art. I yearn to make my art known. It must be the “Hungry Ghost” in me.

Is it magic and fun or torture/blood, sweat & tears to be creative?

It’s a blessing and a curse. 

What is the process like from theory/idea to a practical creation?

Generally I work with musicians and bands. The process for that is: I go to sleep listening to the clients’ music. I wake up with ideas. Sometimes I wake in the middle of the night to sketch an idea…other times in the morning. They are usually just very rough visuals. I don’t like to waste too much time sketching them out for the client. So I send a basic sketch along with more detailed notes explaining my idea so they get the vibe of it. Once it is approved, which it usually is, then I will spend my creative energy getting right into it and working on the final. Of course, in my head it’s more of a theory and creating the practical requires some revisions. I work by trial and error until I can get what comes from my hand to match what I saw in my head. So I would say there is a difference between theory and practice.

Sometimes it might take me several drafts to figure out the best angle that I want to represent the idea…the best composition...playing around with different color options.  A drawing cannot start without the idea, but there many ways to express the idea and that takes time while the clock is ticking.

Can you force creativity or are „drive“ and efficiency counterproductive?

I am very inefficient. My wife is always complaining about that, but for me that is how I work. I am very driven. 

How do you stimulate your creativity/are there specific rituals therefore or a muse?

For me listening to music before I go to bed and also finding places where I can daydream….whether it’s being stuck in traffic or taking a bath or lying in my hammock, I call it fallow time.  However, it can be exhausting jumping from project to project – year after year.

When you are in a creative phase, are you working as if in trance?

Absolutely, that’s the best part. The world melts away and it’s very meditative, but also exciting for me to start with an empty page and see it come to life and feel good about what I’m doing.

Which is better for creativity: discipline and structured time-management or idleness?

I am disciplined in that I put in hours every day…but I am not disciplined about when they come. You do need some idleness - but that is what sleep is for.

Do age and life experience help with creativity or is a younger mind more creative, because it is fresh and untouched by experience? What about social/cultural heritage?

My parents kept all my artwork since I was three.  On occasion when I look back at those scrapbooks I see a lot of creativity and talent…a lot of freedom.  Over the years, that gets focused and refined, but the great thing about art is that it has no age. It’s not like other creative pursuits where people are judged by what they did for the youth of pop culture.  Art is timeless and ageless. Because of the internet, we live in an age where we are influenced and can be an influence through different cultures around the world. So be careful what you might call inspiration others might call appropriation and at the same time, people that live in a community that might be considered backwards or less sophisticated can have access and get exposed in real time to exciting and creative things around the world that in the past they may not have heard about. Hopefully, technology will remain open to allow many voices to be heard and not homogenized.

How important is talent for creativity? Is art of any kind based on talent?

When I was growing up – in my parents’ arts studio they were friends with many talented and creative artists. They were all starving artists. While I saw talent and creativity went hand in hand, it was not necessarily a measure of success. There were also artists that we all felt were derivative and didn’t offer any new insight into culture or society or aesthetics and were very successful that had a gimmick that appealed to the lowest common denominator. We were all starving so we felt we had the talent and creativity but lacked the success. My parents’ upbringing taught me: You don’t make art to make a buck. You make art, because it’s in your soul. The rewards are more than just financial!

Do you archive certain ideas to maybe check back when you are in a less creative phase?

Sure.  Although I mostly I like to keep things fresh. If I get an idea and I can apply it to a project I do archive it. Sometimes ideas do not always behave. While working on one project I can get an idea for another project, so I will archive it and maybe I can use it at a later date.

Did you ever revisit an older idea, that you thought would be worthless but it turned out to be great/good? If so, why do you think that is?

It’s more like when I look at old ideas, it’s good that I didn’t use them. I may have been excited at the time, but they are not as special as I thought they were. However, in the process of coming up with an idea, I will sometimes come up with several ideas and I will save some of the alternative ideas for a later date. So it’s not so much that I revisit an idea, but sometimes I’ll come up with an idea and then I’ll go quickly looking for a client to use that idea. Sometimes I feel if I have come up with an idea, then it’s out there in the ether and someone else might come up with the same idea so I need to hurry up and bring it to life before someone else does.

Is it better to be creative on your own, only trust your own instinct, or in a team? However, in a team - how much of your own, personal idea is really left afterwards?

I’m not much of a team player. For me art is very solitary. However, I have collaborated with my brother several times throughout the years and I always feel like that is my very best work. I also welcome some input and guidance from clients, but only up to a certain point…more like a starting off point. After all, I picked my particular profession because I get to be my own art director.

Is it true talent to trust other people to fill the gaps of your own deficits/ lack in creativity to produce something significant/great?

It’s always good to be open minded and not be defensive about advice… but at the end of the day it’s merely advice and you have to go with your own gut feeling. It’s a balance between pushing you beyond your comfort zone, but also recognizing your weaknesses and finding others you can trust to help you in areas you need help in.

Who’s leading in the creativity-process: craftsmanship or spontaneous intuition/inspiration?

Because of the nature of my particular work, I wish it could be both because both are important. But ever since I was a kid, I always felt that if it has a lot of craftsmanship, people might not notice the idea isn’t that original or new. The stars don’t always allow inspiration when you are under a deadline. So I would prefer inspiration to lead, but sometimes it is just about doing a job in a way that is still appealing even though it is nothing new. It comes down to people’s preference of style. There are 1000 different ways to draw something, so no matter what I do, there are always going to be people, who hate it and people who like it. I just need a few people to like it in order for it to sell.

Which roles play aspects such as sincerity, authenticity, self-doubt when it comes to creativity and are they useful for the creative process?

I feel like I am in a fog of self-doubt and inauthenticity and insincerity.  But I have a family to feed, so I take out my mental machete and I cut through the self-doubt and tell myself, it is an illusion and the world needs more dead trees turned into decorative paper. I think social media helps the fragile artist ego, because you realize in real time that there are people out there that appreciate you and want you to succeed because they want to see their investments appreciate.

If you would make a pie chart: How are emotion, mind and commercial interests distributed in percentages when it comes to the creative process?

Mind takes up the largest part of it. Emotion is in the very beginning and the very end.

When we first came to America and my dad was a struggling artist looking for better opportunities to make art, he was never motivated by making money. He told us if you want to make money don’t be an artist or supplement your art with a real job.  So being creative is the most important part to me! It’s obviously nice to make money, but there are many art jobs that pay a lot that I turn down, because I don’t feel they are creative or I feel that they are anti-creative. 

What is better in a developmental process: speed, meaning to grasp the magic of the moment, or a slow, ripening process when it comes to implementation and elaboration?

The developmental process never ends. 

What is the individual satisfaction based on: a) self-realization and individual fulfilment, b) the (artistic) recognition or c) commercial success?

For me it is b.  Artistic recognition is the strongest, but they are all important. Commercial success is tricky. I have a lot of friends that are very talented who have not found commercial success. It is sometimes embarrassing to have things that other equally talented and derserving people don’t have.

What is your personal motivation for creative activity?

For 25 years, it’s been the deadline. If I don’t have a deadline, I’m not doing anything. I’m a very hard working lazy person.

What role does perfection play when it comes to creativity? Is a completely perfect opus soulless?

When I was younger, I would always try to draw perfect lines and perfect circles. Now in the digital age, there are many tools to help you do that.  So I like my work to look more hand done and organic and imperfect to show the artist’s hand was involved more. Also, having some arthritis has changed my style from long smooth lines to short angry lines. There is no such thing as perfection...at least not in creativity, because creativity is subjective. Sometimes when people don’t know what they are looking at, they comment, „that’s creative.“ It’s not always meant as a compliment. Besides, anything too perfect angers the gods. 

How much does routine influence creativity?

You definately need to put in the hours, but my wife always complains that I don’t have an actual routine. Some days you just can’t force it but you need to treat it like a serious job and dedicate many hours at some point during the week....even if it is not the same every day.

Can experience and professionalism make up for lack of creativity? And if so - how much?

Absolutely, sometimes you feel like you are wasting creativity on a client or a public that doesn‘t appreciate it anyway. Also, it has taken 25 years of experience and professionalism to be able to do something under a very short deadline.

It took me 20 years of practice to be able to do something in five minutes.

Workmanship and creativity: Can it be an obstacle?

When I come up with an idea, I will spend some time figuring out what style I want to portray the idea in. What gets me most excited is the idea and then I figure out what style I want to draw it in. 

How is it possible to stay true to yourself artistically, but stay innovative at the same time? Can you keep re-inventing yourself without renouncing/denying your style?

I think, it is good to be aware of your limitations and then working within those confines see how you can push the boudaries to make it challenging and interesting to yourself.

Is it desirable to be ahead of your time or does it cause to be misunderstood (or not understood at all)?

For me, being an immigrant to this country (USA), I wanted more than anything to be understood. I think my dad was ahead of his time and misunderstood, and it made things tough for us growing up. His uncompromising vision and dedication to his craft was financially rough, but it instilled in me an appreciation for those who are different and brave.

Are creative people especially sensitive, because they have a particular feeling?

Absolutely, but sensitivity can manifest itself in many differnt ways and there is a certain maturity to not being an asshole or to sink into self pity.  The trick is to be sensitive to others and not just your own ego.  It’s a trick I might get the hang of some day.

When does the time come to end the creative process, to set the finalized work free - or is there a never-ending possibility of improvement?

You have to be able to set it free and move on. Sure there is always the desire to have more time, one more day, one more hour, one more minute…..But if you can’t move on, you can’t grow!  You want it to be the best it can be in the here and now. Don’t take a job unless you can give it 110%, but then move on!


Is there an individual prototype for success? In other words: Is success projectable?

If there is, I haven’t found it yet.

When something is successful, how big is the temptation to recycle it, to repeat the successful prototype?

It’s a fine line between a style and repeating the same old thing. I’m not a fancy enough artist to comment on that since I work in a genre full of stereotypes and recognizable imagery. 

How big of a role does coincidence play when it comes to mass reception/popularity? Or: why is someone successful and someone else is not, even though they are similarly talented?

I’ve never been able to figure that out, but I have seen it action many times.

Should you be able to predict characteristics, needs and desires of your potential audience to be successful?

Yes, and if you can’t predict them, coincidence and opportunity play a role.

How do you stay open to criticism despite success?

Not everyone is going to like everything you do and there are clients that flip through 25 years of your portfolio in 30 seconds and say, „What else do you have.“ All of that is very humbling, even if it is discouraging at times. It also helps that most of my friends knew me before I was anybody and could care less about my successes or failures in the art world. They also keep me grounded that I’m a good person whether my art is good or bad.

Do you have to be driven, do you have to be addicted to achieve the next time, what didn’t work this time?

I am my own hardest critic. To me, drive and addiction are the same thing.

Did you ever deliver something that you thought was mediocre – but was successful?

Yes, especially last year when I had back to back to back projects. I felt like all of my ideas were strong, but sometimes there just wasn’t enough time to create them in the way I wanted. So I took a few short cuts, but then I had to remind myself at the end of the day that I am more than just an illustrator. I am an artist and a designer and just because an idea isn’t rendered in the original style I wanted to do it in, doesn’t mean the final product isn’t interesting to the viewer. A few projects that I thought were mediocre or failures ended up being some of my most popular and acclaimed projects of the year. So sometimes I have no idea what I’m doing.

How big is the fear of failure that a successful run might end and what follows is the fall?

Big enough for me to go to therapy several times throughout my career, because of that fear. I can only say I measure my success one year at a time….am I in a better place than I was the previous year? But the drive to make art has been with me since my parents started saving my artwork from the age of three.

In your mind, what is the reason for being successful over a long series of time and all of a sudden the success is gone? Is this a matter of the contemporary taste and different times or is it just a natural development that once one is on top for some time, there’s only one way - down?

I try never to be too successful, so that when the day comes, I won’t have as far to drop. Although last year, there were two poster contests in my field and I won 1st place in both…. So – in your face - FATE

How do you deal with a moment, where your individual, perfect work has been created, maybe has been praised and nominated with all possible awards – what will be next? Or is the personal peak also “the end”?

The first ten years of my career I believed in myself even though nobody else did. But an artist I looked up to gave me some advice.  He said, „Copy your heros until you have your own voice. Take everything you like and mix it together with your own experience and keep doing it. Other people will drop out. Other people will give up. Eventually people will notice, if you don’t quit. Find the joy in it. Because: What is success? What is failure? Is it money? Is it recognition? Or is it finding something that gives you purpose and satisfaction? Those things should not come to you easily.“

How about when your individual, perfect work has been created, maybe has been praised and nominated with all possible awards – what will be next? Or is the personal peak also “the end”?

There is no end until you give up or die. Those moments are like a brief rest stop along the road. You should stop and enjoy them but all they are is like stopping at a gas station to get more fuel continue your journey. 

If this is a possibility – is it even desirable to create the ultimate, perfect work?

My friend’s dad wrote a popular science fiction story many years ago about an artist who created such a perfect work that anyone who saw it was forever changed. At first it was greeted with wonder and hope, but eventually people became numb to any other stimuli. So the artist was asked to create an antidote painting to restore the world back to its’ imperfect ways. When he couldn’t, he threw himself off of a ladder onto his canvas and in his death, he created what the people wanted. So yeah, I don’t want to be that guy.


“This was a poster I drew for a Pearl Jam concert in Alberta/Canada during the time, when the Alberta Tar Sands oil refineries are still polluting, poisoning and causing cancer and displacing native tribes there. It symbolizes how indigenous people (or more generally, humanity in terms of the downtrodden and oppressed masses) survive amidst such difficulties. This wise elder robot is pieced together from spare parts and discard scrap. His head-dress is made from Solar Panels. He is still proud and hopefully amidst bleak surroundings (I purposely used subdued colours for this poster). Never give up the fight for justice! And the band Pearl Jam is very active in social causes, which I respect and am proud to be a part of.”

Pearl Jam -
My favorite work: Pearl Jam - "Robot"-poster

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