In 2016 — a time when kids are rocking bomber jackets, ripped jeans, Thrasher T-shirts and wallet chains with zero irony — you could be forgiven for thinking not a lot has changed in 20 years.
Take a quick look around you: Blink 182 are still making music, Calvin Klein is cool again, there’s a Moss on the catwalk and Tom Cruise is grimacing his way through yet another excruciating Mission Impossible. As a decade, it all feels a bit Groundhog Day, only without the comforting Bill Murray wit.
But setting aside this smorgasbord of pop-cultural déjà vu, a quick peek beneath the hood of society reveals at least one reassuring shift in the modern psyche. While the youth of the ’90s and ’00s were raised almost exclusively on a diet of do-nothing, slacker cool, nowadays kids have a very different guiding principle: dropping out is out; doing stuff is in. In fact, most of the time it’s not enough to be doing just one thing – you have to be doing all the things, all the time.
Driven by an almost schizophrenic need to try new roles, today’s post-millennial Renaissance Men (and women) are surfing a simmering wave of creative energy, sticking their fingers into as many fresh pies as they can find. And, when it comes to pies, few have stickier digits than Julian Klincewicz. He’s like the Martha Stewart of alternative expression.
To run-through Klincewicz’s personal résumé takes a deep breath indeed. Highlights include: published author, internationally celebrated artist, recorded musician, longtime skateboarder, celebrity photographer, in-demand filmmaker, budding fashion designer and occasional model. He’s shot video for Gosha Rubchinskiy, Eckhaus Latta, New York band Haerts, and he recently hosted his second exhibition in Tokyo. Last February he was personally invited by Kanye West to film the YEEZY Season 3 presentation in Madison Square Gardens. Oh, and he’s just 21 years old.
As if that weren’t enough, he’s also a thoroughly nice guy with a very refreshing take on the world. We caught up with him for a chat ahead of his debut fashion presentation in LA this month, and attempted to find out how one man can wear so many different creative hats without collapsing.
Just for the sake of it, can we run through all the creative projects you’re currently pursuing?
For sure! So, currently I’m working on editing a few videos and I just started filming a few new ones that I think will be more installation based. I’ve just about finished up a new zine of photographs from the mid-west, and I’m trying to plan for an exhibition to go alongside it as well.
I’m designing and sewing a bunch of outfits for my debut show this month, and I’m working on some new silk flags that are a part of my ongoing body of work, “Hey, I like you”, which will hopefully be shown early next year. The flags and the clothing sort of live in the same world – looking at our relationships to precious objects, and how these objects function as intermediaries for human connections.
Oh, and I also finished up recording a little album that I’m trying to release end of summer.
That’s quite a list. Which of your creative outlets came first?
Skating for sure… Skating has sort of shaped everything I do in some way. I always drew or painted on my grip tape, or did cut-outs with different colors. Those boards were the first art I ever showed.
Did you find that just one was never going to be enough?
I think the main thing about all my work is that the medium is sort of secondary. The true medium I hope to work in is “Feeling.” That sounds a lil tacky maybe, but I think if you can make someone else feel something – whether it’s through music or skating or video or fashion or a photograph or a physical object or just an idea that doesn’t ever take form – that’s the most powerful thing you can do.
To me, everything in the world is everything else; everything you do informs and speaks to everything else. If you put yourself in the mindset that anything is possible, then it doesn’t matter so much what field you’re working in. Creativity is a collective medium, and it’s more about translation than a specific outlet.
Interesting. Would you say you primarily use art as a way to express what’s inside you, or a way to document what’s around you?
Oh boy, both for sure. I always think something like “I make work for myself, so it can be for everyone else.” When I manage to show something through art that really transports someone else, creating that sense of connection is when I feel people can really see me. When something is a totally new experience, it’s like a new type of love and I’m so excited about it I just want to share it.
I truly believe that any experience in the world can be the most meaningful and inspiring thing ever if you want it to be, it just depends on how you look at it. For example, when I look at models wearing clothing backstage, I’m thinking about their forms as Greek sculptures or terra-cotta wine vases, but when I’m looking at their movements, I’m thinking about how human or alien they are – the way someone cocks their head like a rooster, or smiles like my mom in a photo from 1996.
Ultimately, things mean as much to you as you want them to.
That’s pretty deep. What about people? Do you have any idols?
I don’t know if I’d use the word “idols” — we’re all humans, after all — but I definitely look up to a lot of people. Early on it was my friend Zarosh; he’s a pro-skater and he introduced me to transcendental meditation. When I found out that that’s what he did, I was like “I have to do this; this is the thing.” I started when I was 13, and I think that’s had a huge influence on everything in my life.
Gosha’s world is super inspiring to me; I think he’s a really good example of what a modern artist looks like. Also Patti Smith, especially in terms of her writing. I feel like Patti’s writing is just as much of a friend and mentor to me any of my actual best friends. Then there’s Kanye — he’s super inspiring to me in all sorts of different ways, but foremost because he’s truly making an effort to make pop culture better.
You’ve become known for your grainy style of video. How did you get started with shooting on VHS, and what is it you like about the format so much?
I used to have one of those shitty Motorola flip phones with the QWERTY keyboard. It took 15 second videos, the quality was horrible, and I loved it. I used to just shoot video diaries on that. Then my aunt sent me a VHS camera from my grandma’s attic while they were cleaning it out. Around that time I was skating all the time with my friend Dolan, so we started filming with it. Basically, a VHS camera was all I had, so that’s what I filmed with.
It’s fun, the ridiculousness of how large and outdated VHS cameras are. It lets you connect with people in a different way. When I hold a mini DV camera it feels very gross. I feel like some creep trying to film casting couch or something, ’cuz it’s so small.
With the VHS cam, it’s so large that you can’t really hide. It feels really human.
Did growing up in San Diego play a big part in your creative development? How did you get noticed further afield?
San Diego made it really easy to get involved in the skate scene, which is inherently a really creative scene. But I don’t think it necessarily made it easy to get involved in an “art scene.” Art you sort of have to hunt out down here. I think there’s a lot of creative people in San Diego, but there’s not really any solid support for them.
Collaborating with Gosha was a big turning point for me. That was my first major international project. Before that, being involved in music and skateboarding had opened up a few doors. I did an exhibition with support from Vans, and got shot by Hedi Slimane, which was a great experience. But I think the first Gosha video we shot in Paris was a real tipping point.
That’s a big break. How was it, working with such a highly scrutinized talent like Gosha?
It was great. For the Paris show he told me to just be free. It worked so smoothly because I felt that I, on a real visceral level, could understand what he was trying to convey. For the Vans project the idea was just to show Russia and how its skate scene relates to the wider world, and also to California. Gosha planned out a few locations to visit, and the rest of the time Tolya and Stas and I just went out skating with everyone. The scene in Russia is amazing.
And how did that translate to ‘JOURNAL’? Did you always intend to document the experience as a book?
That experience, for me, meant a ton. I can’t put into words how appreciative I am for it — it goes way beyond the excitement of getting to work with Gosha. It was everyone: Alyona, Stas, Toliya, Gleb, Bibik… just being around their creative energy was infectious. While I was there I was writing, taking photos, drawing, filming every day, and I wanted to do something to convey how much people like that mean to me. How much appreciation I have for them.
That said, I didn’t want it to seem like I’m piggybacking on Gosha’s world. That’s not my relationship to him and I don’t want people to always connect me to it. I’m so grateful to work with him and get to count him as a friend, but I’m not about exploiting what he’s done. I want to celebrate it.
In its shape and form, JOURNAL itself is a re-contextualization of Hindu prayer books and pocket bibles. Hindu prayer books were these tiny books printed and sold for a penny, so that even the poorest people could still say a prayer. The size is also reminiscent of a cell phone because, in an age when all our images are taken and shared via Instagram, I need to be reminded (and I think everyone else does too) that physicality is important.
This is just the beginning of the JOURNAL project, and it was very personal. Future editions will probably look very different because I’ll be a different person by then.
Your most recent exhibition – a collection of ornamental silk scarves – was recently held in Tokyo. What was the message behind “Hey, I like you?”
“Hey, I like you” basically looks at our relationship to precious objects. It’s also about communicating empathy. It’s way too easy now to just shit talk everyone and be cynical and ironic, but what’s useful about that? Irony isn’t too cool to me. We all feel lonely sometimes, so it’s important to feel appreciated.
The actual silks used in the project are from my mom’s kindergarten, so they’re steeped in these kid’s imaginations. Tokyo was the second part of this project (the first was in San Diego), and the third is a runway show coming this September. I’m even looking forward to parts four, five and six already in some capacity!
With all that work under your belt, how did it feel to get the call from Kanye to work on the YEEZY Season 3 show?
So crazy, because I’d been joking with my friends Edwin and Luke about it, and then it actually happened. His and Vanessa’s work together is really special. In terms of people you could get the chance to work with, in so many ways that I couldn’t possibly explain, he’s incredible. I couldn’t be more honored.
Obviously not everyone will get the chance to work with Kanye, but what advice would you give to other aspiring creative youths looking for their first break?
I think the most radical and liberating thing you can do is to figure out what works for you — to know that everyone works differently, and that what works for one person might be completely the wrong thing for you. This goes for people you’d like to work with, too. Also be careful how you bare your soul. Try to identify why you want to “make it”, and also think about what “making it” looks like for you. Make the best thing you possibly can, be proud of it, then make it better.
Finally, what would you like to do that you haven’t yet had the chance to?
Show at the Whitney in New York. Play Pitchfork Festival. Learn to dance ballet. Buy my mom house and a vacation. Help support my dad. Get a pair of Vetements jeans. Put out a real skate part. Publish a zine with Idea books. Publish some writings in the Paris Review. Visit Poland. Collaborate with 032c. See a new color.
Julian Klincewicz will present “Hey, I Like You” – an exhibition and runway fashion show — at the San Diego Art Institute today.
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