High Octane Art | Interview: Emmeric Konrad
citizen-la-cover-emmeric-konradfotoboy62 | Citizen LA

Emmeric used to live in my building. I never met him here, but there are many leftover examples of his work in a third floor back hallway of the old, labyrinthine structure. I’ve spent some time with the energetic, raw and frenetic works and may have incurred some permanent retinal damage as a result. I have no doubt my proposed meeting with him will reveal an angry, out of control individual with a penchant for trouble.

The artist now lives just a few blocks north, where he agrees to meet me at the charming downtown relic, Mariscos Ensenada. A resident since 1990, Emmeric is greeted like family by the staff, who cheerfully promised to attend the opening of his show that night. The angry artist I was expecting never showed. Instead, Emmeric appears to have found his center somewhere in the chaos he portrays.

The First Time I Saw a Dragon

When Emmeric was just three years old, his mother took him to Chicago’s abundant museums to see the art. Even at this young age, he would carry a sketchbook to capture what he saw. An early memory takes him to Daley Center Plaza where he first encountered a fifty foot tall 162 ton steel sculpture by Picasso. Though the cubist image was intended to represent a woman, the young Emmeric looked up in awe at a mighty dragon towering menacingly above. He was in love with art. Today, he laughs about those days, “My mom has a painting I made when I was three years old… It actually looks like my work now!”

The Comic Book War

Comic books have been an interest as long as he can remember. Gripped by the characters, the colors, and the imaginative, ongoing storylines, Emmeric began to draw from this inspiration. Having moved to Santa Monica and met other young collectors, he was sparked to develop some of his own work. When he and a friend gained access to the elementary school’s mimeograph machine, they realized they could publish their own books. With his friend handling most of the writing, and he doing all of the art, Sword Comics became a local 4th grade sensation. “We sold them for a nickel and actually made enough money to buy comic books, which were just twenty-five cents back then.”

Things looked good until another classmate developed his own ‘Mad Magazine style” publication. Unable to beat the competition himself, their competitor hired the school bully to do it for him. The ogre made his move on the playground, taking a swing at Emmeric, who barely dodged the blow. Readying for another swing, the tormentor suddenly received a swift kick to the kneecap from Emmeric’s partner’s steel-toed Waffle Stompers. The bully went down screaming and the brutish competition quietly went out of business. Peace was restored in comic book land. From his earnings, Emmeric built an impressive collection of comic books which he prizes to this day.

The Truth About The Mouse

Having absorbed a bit of Emmeric’s work, it’s clear he’s got a beef with Disney. But the beef is only half the story, for we all have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the Mouse. This is also true of the artist and his ‘rat.’

In 1978, Sandy Duncan filmed the underrated classic The Cat from Outer Space for Disney. As a friend of Sandy’s, Emmeric’s mother was invited to take him to Disneyland on a night the park was open for employees and special guests only.

The experience was ok until the most magical thing happened at the Haunted Mansion. Rounding the corner between the Endless Hallway and the Conservatory, the ride simply broke down. Emmeric watched the coffin before him; the crow perched atop it, and the ghostly hand pushing from within. The single recorded phrase, “Let me out of here” repeated and looped continuously, unveiling the ridiculousness of it all. Thunderstruck, the young boy got out of his car and started to explore the mansion on foot. It wasn’t long before he was apprehended and brought out of the ride. He smiles about the experience and admits, “It’s still my fantasy to see the real Disney underground.”

Love and/or Dungeons & Dragons Will Bring Us Together

While in the eighth grade, Emmeric’s family moved to Springfield, Illinois. Here, the young artist received a less than friendly welcome. As he puts it, “I got my ass kicked a lot.”

He quickly had to learn to defend himself and took up martial arts as well as wrestling. The fighting didn’t stop until one day when, “I threw a kid off a second story balcony… He landed on his feet, thank God! But, I never got fucked with after that.” While a bit safer, he still had trouble making friends.

His youthful geek wisdom finally had a positive role to play as the burgeoning Dungeons & Dragons culture spread through the Illinois/Wisconsin region. With creators Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson being from the area, it became the launching pad and the laboratory for a phenomenon. At once attracted by the gaming structure and the elaborate and creative art, Emmeric quickly rose from mere player to powerful and popular Dungeon Master. Mixing the early AD&D rules and myths with other games like the futuristic Gamma World, Emmeric created realms where anything was possible. His players were able to battle dragons with lasers and light sabers! Everyone wanted to be involved. “I’d have football players, cheerleaders… everyone over at my house! It was the one time in Springfield where everyone would actually get together.”

Search & Rescue

Out of High School and having returned to Santa Monica, Emmeric longed to go to Art School. His troubled past and his parents recent divorce were obstacles to that goal. In 1983, he packed up and headed off to the Marines because, as he puts it, “I had to clean up my act.”

Basic Training went well, with Emmeric finishing in the top percentage of his class. He worked on helicopters before joining a MEDEVAC team. In Search & Rescue, he worked hard and had a great time. Rappelling from helicopters and other dangerous activities seemed to fill a void in him and give him that solid footing he needed to get back to the world. Of course, he’ll be the first to admit, “It was 1983 to 1987. Nothing happened. It was the best time to be in the Marine Corps.” He even became a popular DM there.

Art School Confidential

With his experience in the military behind him, it was time to finally take his passion for art to school. Quickly accepted to Otis Parsons School of Fine Art, Emmeric began a tough journey through alternately validating and discouraging experiences. He had a blast, road a Harley and worked hard on his foundation in traditional techniques, always keeping a firm grasp on his own personal style.

While some of his professors loved and encouraged him, some just didn’t get him. Too much conflicting advice over his shoulder was a turn off. “When other people tell you what to do, it kills your creativity. It kills your mood.” At one point, he was offered this advice: “Pretend to be gay or give up painting.” While this was not typical of the teachers there, it contributed to his need for validation as an artist.

As seniors, the students were given small, connected lofts to work in. Throughout the year, as students dropped out or just didn’t make use of the space, Emmeric and classmate Camille Rose Garcia took over. Their lofts and their work grew and grew, and their shared appetite for work led them there almost all of the time. They were even known to bribe the guards with beer to be able to enter after hours and work all night.

One of those late nights, upon arrival to the lofts, he found a Post-it Note beside a new painting of his titled “That Loving Feeling.” The note simply read, “This is beautiful.” It was signed by LA art legend Alexis Smith. “That was the validation that really made a difference.” That little sticky note carried him through senior year.

Downtown

After longtime downtown resident & artist Gronk spoke at Otis Parsons; the two quickly developed a friendship and Emmeric was drawn to the raw downtown area where they both still live. While the galleries pop up around them and the city cleans itself up, Emmeric continues on his path to push his own limits and maintain the high octane energy that fuels his work. There’s no better place to experience every facet of modern life, beautiful or unpleasant, than downtown Los Angeles. It’s this energy, this meeting of the classes in an iconic city facing revitalization that feeds Emmeric on a daily basis. A witness to change, rather than its victim, he confronts and translates the new modernity with every work.

These days, the artist seems happy. He’s energized, but at peace. He’s recently married and enjoying every minute of it. Here, at one of his favorite local eateries, he sits back, a dozen empty oyster shells scattered before him, eyes gazing across the street to his new building. He smiles and reflects. “You know, there’s no better revenge for the rest of the world then to be happy.”

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