JULIAN KLINCEWICZ: The Wunderkind, All Grown Up
In his late teens, the artist Julian Klincewicz bewitched the cultural sphere with his signature, technicolored aesthetic and warm heart, but also with his charming origin story. “I was the skate kid with the VHS camera, who started making films and got swept up into the fashion world,” he said. Now, when Klincewicz is introduced, his name is typically followed by a swirl of others – those of his clients and collaborators over the years, including Gosha Rubchinskiy, Kanye West, Virgil Abloh and Beyoncé. His impressive roster of co-creators is often accompanied by the laundry list nouns used to identify him: skateboarder, designer, photographer, filmmaker, musician, writer, or the all-encompassing “multi-disciplinary artist.” Now, the words the media used to amplify the marvel of his early success feel outdated. Klincewicz is no longer the remarkable “up-and-comer” who has been championed by others, but rather an independent and established artistic force – an aesthetic institution all his own.
Earlier this week, Klincewicz revealed his third collaboration with Vault by Vans: a footwear and apparel collection inspired by the poetry and evanescence of youth. Klincewicz turned back the clocks of time to harvest his most cherished memories from the summers he spent as a child in Union Pier, Michigan, with his Polish family. Klincewicz’s Spring/Summer capsule is an homage to time spent catching fireflies, traversing sand dunes, and collecting sea glass on the shores of Lake Michigan. It is a loving ode to the joy born of aimlessness and exploration, and that fleeting feeling of suspended responsibilities – of there being no tasks to complete and nowhere you’d rather be.
Using a multi-dimensional approach, Klincewicz transformed recollections of meteor showers, ice cream cones, and bonfire smoke into garments that are begging to be bleached by sunshine, loosened by over-wear, and seasoned with a summer’s worth of adventures. “Each piece was designed for practicality, but also to gain value — from our experiences, and our irreplaceable memories — as the materials wear in and change with time,” Klincewicz said. With the wisdom that comes with age and experience, Klincewicz transcended the lures of nostalgia by engineering garments that also reflect the beauty of the aging process. Klincewicz’s head-to-toe Vault by Vans collection becomes more refined and unique over time, much like we do.
In the brief window of time between Klincewicz’s trip to the flower market and his road trip back to San Diego for the launch event, the artist spoke to 032c about the precipice of burnout, his future artist residency on the moon, and the underrated genius of “live, laugh, love.”
Do you feel like your youth was fetishized in the early years of your career?
I think that really hits the nail on the head. It was weird to see that so sensationalized because that was simply my reality. I got very fortunate in that I connected early on with a couple of people who believed in me and who had a lot of visibility. Obviously, “wunderkind” makes for a great headline, and fetishizing the young, up-and-coming kid makes for great clickbait. But of course, there’s a great feeling that comes with being that new, up-and-comer. I think there is something very attractive about that type of figure in the industry. There’s a naivety there that is very genuine and pure, because being young often means being conducive to new points of view – and new points of view are always exciting. It’s very easy to tap into from a brand perspective. While it’s nice to be the one that’s being tapped into, that tap can also leave you a bit ill-equipped as an artist, because truly developing skills and finding your voice takes time.
How does it feel to be a wunderkind that's all grown up?
Well, I’m definitely not 19 anymore. That feels like another lifetime ago. I’ll be 27 this year. In the big picture that’s still pretty young, but I am a totally different person now. And, for the first time, I feel like I’m finally coming into my own as an artist. I think, for a little while, I forgot I even was an artist because I’d overloaded myself with branded work, instead of keeping a healthy balance.
I’ve dedicated the majority of the past four years of my life to other artists and brands. I’m so grateful to have been able to work with the most amazing people and companies, but I don’t know if that’s the best use of my voice anymore. I feel new confidence to actually just prioritize making my own work and figure who Julian Klincewicz, the artist, is. So that’s the new frontier.
I also have a new point of view: I'm more interested in storytelling now, rather than the aestheticized documentarian things that I’ve done before. Now, I feel a bit less connected to this word that I always used to describe myself, “multidisciplinary artist.” I heard myself say it the other day and it sounded so gimmicky to me. I feel more and more that I’m just a person who makes things, who is trying to figure out what to make next, and who is trying to savor the process a bit more. There’s a loss of self-description there that feels really liberating. Maybe a loss of self-deception as well. Now, I’m interested in making art that connects people – and I want to explore that to the fullest.
What triggered this shift in priorities?
Time feels different to me now. It feels a little more precious. When you get swept up in the industry quite young, it's thrilling and exciting, but it also forces you to rush. I think you end up always chasing the next cool thing, even when you feel like you're not. When Covid hit and everything shut down, nothing really changed in my life because I had so many projects lined up. While I know I’m lucky to have been able to continue trucking along and working, it was also very disheartening. It showed me just how much I had been working because my lifestyle before was just as physically isolated.
All of my work revolves around the idea of community. Upon reflection, I realized that the things I was making came from a place of longing. For years, I was confusing commercial projects for my own work, and working all the time for actually living. When you love what you do, there’s such a fine line between loving it and burying yourself in it. As a creative person, that threshold is so precarious. It’s actually a precipice. When you jump off of that cliff, you’re flying – but you’re also falling. It can be hard to tell the difference between the two, especially when your need to make things is so genuine and inherent.
I realized that working so much actually does a major disservice to your art because you are less in touch with the world. Validation doesn’t come from the logo for me anymore, it comes from prioritizing my lived experience and sharing that with friends and family, and trying to create more meaningful work.
What I really want to do is make experiences.
What does “making experiences” mean to you?
I’ll give you three examples. First of all, I want to go to the moon. Literally. I want to do an artist residency there and create work that communicates that life-altering experience through the lens of art. That would manifest as audio-visual work, probably with documentary-style video, a score, and maybe written text. And I want to make one giant "scenario" that documents the entire process and share that with people.
I also want to build a freeway. In California, we spend so much of our lives driving in cars and it's an ugly experience. What if instead of gray cement or black asphalt, you used gradient pigments to create an earth-toned, rainbow road? And what if we designed all of the landscapes to be complementary to what the road is? If there’s salmon-colored concrete, why not line it with oak trees or with rusted brown steel, like in a Richard Serra piece?
I’m also working on a series of sculpture-garden-style skate parks that are very much inspired by [Isamu] Noguchi. I grew up skating and although I skate much less as an adult, I still feel so connected to it. What if there was another way to enjoy the skate park beyond actually skating it? What would a skatepark that is equally enjoyable for mother and child or father and teen look like? Lately, I’ve been thinking about how to build ramps out of rammed earth texture and how I can carve [skateable] things out of six-ton boulders.
That’s my long-term goal – to make democratic experiences more beautiful and artistic. Someone like Christo is really my North Star, in that sense.
Utility and beauty needn’t be mutually exclusive. If we ruptured the widespread assumption that those two things are at odds, we could unlock a lot of joy.
It’s simple for me. I want to love life. I want to love every aspect of it. My favorite phrase of all time is “live, laugh, love.” That, to me, is the epitome of human ingenuity. It’s so accessible. Everybody in the world knows a version of “life, laugh, love.” When you see it in cursive font in Target, it feels so dumb and crass because it's been reduced to a corny tagline. It’s a meme, basically, but it’s a meme about what life is really about. Because isn’t that what everybody really wants? Isn’t that what every best experience revolves around? "Live, laugh, love" is in service of the pursuit of the present. I am also in pursuit of that.
You’ve permanently altered my perception of “life, laugh, love.” I am forever changed.
That’s another concept I’m interested in: rebranding ideas. It also links back to this search for fulfillment – taking these really common things and beautifying them a bit, and genuinely bringing people more joy through that process. What if “live, laugh, love” became a fashion collection? What if I used some Raf-Simons-esque graphics and fonts and suddenly the concept becomes edgy and wearable? Maybe that will be my future contribution to the fashion world. Look out for the “live, laugh, love” collection!
I just placed my pre-order.
The Vault by Vans x JULIAN KLINCEWICZ collection is available at select Vault by Vans dealers. For more info, click here.