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Julian Klincewicz (left) and a model backstage at his Hey, I Like You showPhotography Daria Kobyashi

Julian Klincewicz: 21st-century polymath

From skater to artist-slash-designer-slash-photographer-slash-filmmaker, the 21-year-old discusses his latest endeavour, a fashion show and exhibition

One of the first things you notice about Julian Klincewicz, after a few minutes speaking to him, is that he is really nice. Like, he is polite and affable almost to a fault – which seems like an oddly banal thing to mention about a 21-year-old who, last Friday night, staged a fashion show-stroke-art event in his hometown of San Diego, and has exhibited work in Tokyo, made collaborative videos with Gosha Rubchinskiy and worked with Kanye West. But it is also equally remarkable that someone who has achieved so much so young carries no airs or graces about him whatsoever. He is nonplussed by his relative celebrity, shrinks away from the concept of being cool or internet-famous, and is refreshingly free-spirited and inquisitive against a backdrop of fellow 20-somethings with an affectedly jaded worldview, which plays so well with a social media audience. All of which Klincewicz’s art addresses in one roundabout way or another.

Friday night was the third installation of a five-part series entitled Hey, I Like You, based around the concept of precious objects and how they can underpin personal relationships: “Maybe it’s because of social media… You have this sense of connected isolation, where I’m connected to 50 people who I consider my friends – I really admire what they’re doing, I love their work, and their lives look awesome. But I don’t have a tangible piece for it,” he muses.

For Klincewicz, emotions and relationships are often manifested in objects, becoming a shorthand expression for something more meaningful. It is that relationship, where objects take on a greater personal significance than just being a t-shirt, or a record, that fascinates him as an artist and drives his work: “For me, objects are really important,” he explains. “When I put on my Thrasher t-shirt, all of a sudden I’m connected to the past ten years of my life growing up skating and I have this sense of community. When I pick up a Patti Smith zine and read her poetry, I feel really connected to her and New York.”

“Klincewicz’s creativity and openness to trying new things seem innate – his work is littered with reference points that jump from William Strobeck’s ‘Cherry’ skate video for Supreme to Charles and Ray Eames’ ‘Portraits of America’” 

While the previous two parts of this series have focused on silk flags, each one bearing a message he believes “everyone deserves to hear, and needs to hear, (at) different points”, Friday brought together and showcased Klincewicz’s diverse array of skills and interests. The music that soundtracked the event was his sparse, sulking track entitled “Lust”, composed by Victor Sjöberg’s FREE AKTION music project. Then, there was a video to accompany the song, an occasionally abstracted portrait of a young, wispy-haired boy not dissimilar to himself. The clothes, too, were an extension of the artist’s interests – and a diversification of his past work, having shot videos for Eckhaus Latta and more recently an undisclosed Scandinavian fashion label – but these were his own creations. He made jumpers that referenced Patti Smith, saffron-yellow turtlenecks, and graphic t-shirts like that of his fashion idol-slash-collaborator Gosha Rubchinskiy. There was also a sunglasses collaboration with RETROSUPERFUTURE and an assortment of customised Vans slip-ons. When I speak to Klincewicz on the phone in the lead-up to the show, he is in a thrift shop purchasing 36”-waist Levi’s which he can then refashion to create his own jeans. Indeed, while some of the pieces that appeared in the show were made by local San Diego tailors, others were sewn by the artist himself, something he learned to do aged three.

Klincewicz was born in Chicago, moving to San Diego at the age of seven with his mother and sister, where he attended a ‘Waldorf School’ – more commonly known as a Steiner School in the UK – which places a greater emphasis on creativity and the development of students as socially competent members of society, than it does on test results. “I grew up always making things,” Klincewicz recalls. “I didn’t grow up with a TV. We had one but we’d only watch movies once on the weekend. Coming from a Waldorf background there’s a very big reliance on your imagination.”

Beyond his education, Klincewicz’s creativity and openness to trying new things seems more innate – his work is littered with reference points that jump from William Strobeck’s Cherry skate video for Supreme to Charles and Ray Eames’ “Glimpses of the USA”, each one a reflection of a child who left no impulse unexplored. At age seven he joined the circus, where he learned to ride a unicycle and stayed until the age of 14; by 13, he was practising transcendental meditation, something which he does to this day in order to eke out moments of calm and clarity amid an increasingly hectic life-schedule.

But of all the activities and exploits of his formative years, Klincewicz says it was skating that was and remains the most significant influence, something that has not only shaped much of his work, but also his outlook on life. “My stepdad taught me how to skate, it was a really good way for us to bond,” he says. “Then I made a bunch of friends through skating, who all did creative stuff. Skating is very weird in that it’s a totally individual activity but it’s also very community-based. When you’re at the skate park trying to do a new trick, everybody wants you to get it and is trying to help you. So that’s a really cool way to learn what it means to be supported by other people.”

“Getting to see just how Kanye works, and how much he gives a shit... I mean, it totally changed my life. It changed my perspective on what is possible and what it really means to create work” – Julian Klincewicz

Around the time he turned 18, Klincewicz watched his friends leave San Diego for college, each going to different parts of the country to embark on the next chapter of their lives. But he decided to stay. Like so many kids at that age who are told they need to make a decision at the age of 17 or 18 that will inform a large chunk of their adult lives, Klincewicz wasn’t quite sure what his next step was – or should be. What he was certain of was that he liked art. And so, with the year he decided to give himself to figure it all out, he devoted as much time as he would have spent studying for any college course to art. He worked as an assistant to artist Kelsey Brookes, he played in a band called Lube, he did a spot of modelling for Hedi Slimane, and he hosted his first solo exhibition, titled Don’t Call it a Comeback, which was supported by Converse.

On the surface, Klincewicz is a pretty normal 21-year-old – he plays guitar, skates and makes lo-fi VHS videos, none of which is particularly out of the ordinary. What is different about him is just how good he is: the level at which he executes a video is perhaps unparalleled by his peers. While lo-fi video, the kind that brands like Palace have built much of their visual identity on, has become something of a trope in the fashion world – a visual shorthand for brands to say, “Hey, kids, look how in touch with The Youth we are” – Klincewicz’s work eschews that, feeling altogether more authentic. (He first started making videos because his grandma discovered a camera in her loft and sent it to him). As a video artist, he possesses a rare ability to capture a mood or a fleeting moment of intimacy that, in turn, allows his work to transcend its cinematic sub-genre. It is this which separates him from so many of his peers – the medium may be the same as that used by every other kid in a Thrasher tee armed with a VHS camera, but there is a mastery to Klincewicz’s already impressive oeuvre.

It was this mastery that was picked up on by Kanye West, via Ian Connor, who enlisted the San Diegan to shoot a short film of his Yeezy Season 3 show at Madison Square Garden. “Getting to see just how Kanye works, and how much he gives a shit... I mean, it totally changed my life. It changed my perspective on what is possible and what it really means to create work,” he says with an audible excitement. “It was really crazy and also really intense. To make the level of work that he wants, if you’d normally give 100 per cent, you have to give 500 per cent of soul to it, because that is how you create something new, something better than has ever existed before. Just being around that, and getting to see someone in his position who really cares that much about making good work, was really inspiring.”

Despite this, an ever-growing band of fans and an equally impressive list of collaborators, Klincewicz remains grounded. He insists that he has never been cool, and still isn’t, nor does he ever harbour any intentions of being so – all he cares about is making good work. It is a single-mindedness that does not seem dissimilar to that of West or Rubchinskiy, a desire to create something truly great.

On each birthday, Klincewicz takes a pen and paper and writes out a list of things he wants to achieve in the next 12 months and pins it to his wall. Last year, his list included: “work with Kanye West”, the year before: “work with Gosha Rubchinskiy”. Julian’s birthday was a matter of weeks ago, and with it came a new list of goals and challenges he has set himself. Friday night was perhaps somewhat of a San Diego swansong before he departs for New York next month – a challenge he admits he is a little nervous about. He is an artist that seemingly has the world at his feet, who could feasibly achieve great things, so what is at the top of his list of this year’s goals? “Doing a really good skate part in a video,” he says. It is such an unremarkable answer that it snaps everything back into focus. He may be a future darling of the art world, but he’s still just a normal, exceedingly nice 21-year-old.