Powered by Numéro Berlin, shooting star Julian Klincewicz shows in his first European solo exhibition in Berlin his two series IRON MIKE and BOYS GROWN TALL: NACHTWAGEN. What at first appears to be a glorification of the American way of life turns out, on closer inspection, to be a reflection of a country that no longer exists in this way – without losing the romantic view of it. In conversation, he talks about working with Mike Tyson, the idea of the American artist, and assimilating to a new culture.
Numéro Berlin: Hi Julian! In the exhibition, two series are shown: IRON MIKE and BOYS GROWN TALL: NACHTWAGEN. How did the collaboration with Mike Tyson come about?
Julian Klincewicz: Sina (Numéro Berlin’s lovely Fashion Director) reached out with the opportunity to photograph him, and the timing was a little bit hectic, but Mike Tyson is such a interesting person, so I knew I had to make it happen. I’m 26, so I didn’t really grow up with Mike Tyson as the boxer, I just grew up with Mike Tyson as the cultural icon. It felt interesting to get to shoot him from that perspective – and I tried to reflect some of that in the work – with the multilayered images that start to feel like movie posters almost… He seems like someone who has an insane amount of life experience, because of how he is, because of his celebrity, because he’s an incredible athlete, because he’s gotten so much money and lost all his money. He’s had these crazy and complicated ups and downs, And anyone with that amount of life experience becomes an interesting person to me, regardless of him being a celebrity. I think what’s always been interesting or attractive to me is this humanness in people – and he comes across as very human, in-spite of his status as a legend or icon.
NB: How did the composition of the images develop, which is also unique? Was it a spontaneous product or planned beforehand?
JK: Over the past two or three years, I was doing more commercial projects and ad campaigns where you need to have more composed images and you light meter and everything – things become more pre-planned, the bigger the project. I’ve been working that way for a while, and it felt like I needed to be a bit freer this time. I knew we only had an hour to shoot with him, which is very limited, so I thought I’ll shot with just one camera, and we’ll get one light and, we’ll just make it really spontaneous and free and intentionally quite natural. I’m super happy that we did it that way because Mike Tyson showed up 30 minutes early and wanted start shooting before I’d set up any lights, so that also forced it to be extra uncomposed – kind of thrown straight into the deep end. What I would do is to ask him to do a simple action like use the punching bag that’s on the wall, or train with the smaller speed bag (like in the rainbow images) and then I would just shoot for two minutes or something and see what happens. And then once I felt like I had seen something interesting, move on to the next situation.
I always find that the product is just a reflection of whatever the process is. When you have these big sets with 30 people, the images tend to look really polished, really clean and composed and kind of hyper curated. But when the when the experience is just me, him, my friend with a light and Sina doing small touches of styling, it becomes more intimate, it becomes more like shooting a friend, so you get different kinds of images. Another decision to shoot it on film, on a Super 8, is that it’s just more intimate. The whole medium is nostalgic. Inherently, the act of using a Super 8 camera in 2021 is fabricated nostalgia. With any image, there’s two requirements that I like: If I can look at it and I can laugh, that’s nice. The other thing I try to do is to make a rainbow in every image. Somewhere within it, I try to find as many colors as possible. For the Iron Mike series, some were shot with actual color lights, So it made everything monochromatic and then I pushed it further. I flattened it more in the post-production. But with other ones, I just tried to push and push to find as much color as possible, to really make them energetic.
NB: Yeah, that’s super cool. The Nachtwagen series features American trucks. How did your fascination with the means of transportation come about?
JK: When I was a kid growing up, I would always play with the toy trucks and then toy cars and those were my favorite things. And then basically, Irie (Julian’s girlfriend) and I were on a road trip, and I always shoot out the window on road trips because it’s exciting and you never know what you’re going to get. I saw one truck and I was like ‘oh, that’s kind of cool.’ And then I saw another truck and they were just two different colors, and I thought, maybe I can find a rainbow of trucks. And then it became like a road trip game, where I was looking for all the colors. In the process of actually making the work it came to mean a lot, it helped me work through a lot of ideas about burnout and intention, about staying playful and spontaneous as an artist, but also being an artist working in pop-culture. I really think of myself as an American artist. That’s kind of arbitrary, but the idea of American art to me is very pop. It’s about a lot of output. You look at people like Andy Warhol or Virgil and it’s about pumping out as many ideas as possible. And also, the semi-truck in America is everywhere: That is the infrastructure of America, essentially. And it also fits into the trope of the iconic American road trip. On a road trip, the landscape will change, the houses will change, but somewhere – as long as you are on a highway – you’ll see a semi-truck. It’s this very ubiquitous symbol of commerce, of America and of infrastructure. To take that really ubiquitous and utilitarian object that serves a functional purpose and to treat it as if it’s a pop icon just felt kind very playful and exciting… It helped me to relearn how to use my intuition and trust the process.
NB: Both series seem like a nostalgic homage to an America that no longer exist. Mike Tyson as a hypermasculine sports legend and the trucks as a symbol of traditional American culture.
JK: The gut instinct is power. When you see a truck, it’s big. It’s loud. You don’t want to drive next to it, you want space because you know that if it’s swerves, it’ll kill you. I think Mike Tyson is similar. You don’t want to get into his way. There is this sense of hyper masculine, muscular power thing. But at the same time, it feels playful to take something like that and treat it in a creative way with hyper saturated colors and stylized aesthetics. I did a podcast recording earlier, we were looking at the images and saying there’s something a little bit sinister about them. In the next 20 years, most of trucking will probably all be automated. All those jobs will be gone, and it will be electric trucks. And for me, it’s this tangible, literal thing that represents the whole world changing right now. Truck drivers are going to be obsolete, and it’ll all be automatized. The idea of the working class in America has this whole theme of pull yourself up by the bootstraps. Literally the American dream. And I think we’re just reaching a point in late capitalism where it’s now understood that the American dream is super flawed, and the system doesn’t actually work to do that – that the dream is a dream. You get a few people that are special, and it can happen. But this whole system isn’t built to actually make that happen. It’s built to sell the dream. It’s amazing marketing – and in someway’s that’s the most American thing haha.
NB: It’s the most capitalist system.
JK: Yeah, super capitalism. The idea of turning a semi-truck and treating it like it’s pop or like it’s important or something is really arbitrary, but in the process of doing that, I feel like it really opened up a lot of channels of thought and allowed me to find a lot of ideas in that – for whatever reason. It allowed me to start having a bigger dialogue with people, about aesthetics, and about culture, and it allowed me to open up a dialogue with myself about balancing my personal fine art and my commissioned commercial art.
NB: You also show a video that deals with your grandmother’s escape from Poland. How does that dialogue with the two series?
JK: We’re showing two films upstairs. One is basically more about the audio, that’s the Nachtwagen piece, for which my friend Andrew (Deaton Chris Anthony) created the audio to mimic the sounds of the semitruck. And then the other piece is called Misericordia, which is very loosely based on my grandmother’s story of immigrating and assimilaiting to the U.S. And really, what it’s about is these juxtapositions. It’s about assimilation, leaving behind one culture to start a whole new life and the pros and the cons of that – the tension and the challenge. And it is telling the story of two sisters. You see the process: You see these moments of joy and then you see these moments of pain. The piece is inherently really soft. That piece for me really comes from a place of love and tries to be empathetic and compassionate and looks at the realities of how hard it is to give up one life for another and then how to properly assimilate, but through an abstract and emotional lens, rather than a super narrative one. It felt interesting to show in juxtaposition because I just like it all. I love it all. It’s cool to make a really composed image, and it’s cool to make a really free image. And it’s cool to make something that’s clean and something that’s noisy, and to try to make music and also try to make videos and to try to make photos. I like this holistic approach of trying to explore everything. It’s nice to make this hyper masculine work and also kind of hyper feminine work. It shows the juxtaposition and it gives context to each other, and hopefully it can start a bigger dialogue.
For that piece in particular, one of the biggest compliments that I got on it was from my friend Nikki. She said it’s nice to see a film about women that’s not sexualized at all. Pure isn’t the right word, but it’s a very soft piece. It felt really nice to show that against the Iron Mike and Nachtwagen series, because I think it also gives a better perspective on my work, especially for someone who is maybe just discovering it.
NB: This is your first time in Berlin. What is it like to be here? Do you like the city?
JK: The first the first week was hard just because there was no sun, so the jet lag was so brutal. And after the week, I was almost ready to go home haha.
NB: Winter in Berlin can be quite depressing for many.
JK: It was kind of hard. And then as soon as the sun came out, it was amazing. I missed the sun. I felt really conflicted, because I love to travel. I’ve always wanted to come to Berlin, and then to actually finally be here, it was kind of so-so, but it’s just because it’s cold and grey. The city has been amazing in the past couple of days, getting to actually walk around here and go to some of the museums. Same thing for the opening, I couldn’t believe how many people came. It was crazy. The energy here is super amazing. I think I just need to come back in summer to really get the full experience.
NB: We picked the worst time for you to come here haha.
JK: But it’s also kind of nice because I’ve gotten the one really intense version of it. And then I’ll come back and see another version. And I think it’ll be like seeing a new place.
NB: Especially compared to Berlin, the aesthetic of your images is very colorful and intense. Could you say they reflect L.A. as well?
JK: Maybe, I don’t know. Do they come across as L.A. to you?
NB: If you look at photography from Berlin – or Germany in general – the aesthetic can be very clean but also harsh. Yours on the other hand is playful and more colorful. So yes, maybe you could entitle it as an L.A. aesthetic.
JK: It could be, I don’t know for sure. I’ve always just loved color in anything. I look for color walking around the city here. My whole phone camera roll is just textures and color palettes, it’s yellows and then it’s grays. And then finally a bit of blue or the subway with its color pops. And so I think my work becomes really colorful. I think of it as in some ways just super American. Because again, I think the aesthetic of the images is very pop. Since I moved to L.A., I did the most L.A. thing ever and dyed my hair blue. So maybe these are even extra colorful because I’m absorbing by osmosis some of this L.A. kind of energy haha.
NB: Does your aesthetic change when you work in other cities?
JK: I mean, it does a little bit, but not too much at this point…. Well, I don’t know actually. In 2015, I shot a bunch of photos in Moscow and made a little book with it. And on the one hand, I think those images are really early. It was the first photo book I ever made. They look a bit starker, a little less saturated, a little more composed, a little bit more minimal. Versus now I feel like my work is so bright and noisy. So I do think the location certainly affects the work, but it’s the same mentality, maybe. It’s trying to pick up on the individual nuances of that city. I went to Beijing and I was super interested in shooting Beijing trucks. I was going to do a series of the trucks there. I shot a couple but it was not the same. It didn’t matter there. But what was super interesting in Beijing were all the motor scooters. That’s how everyone travels there. So, the subject changes a lot. I would never shoot motor scooters in L.A. The aesthetic was kind of similar to how I shoot the trucks, but the subject matter changed drastically. And I think the color palette on those is still vibrant, but they’re in a totally different hue value. They’re a little more muted, a little more pastel.
I would definitely say that the location I’m in affects the photos I take. At times there’s this really nice surface level where because it’s my first time seeing everything in a new city, everything is fresh. So everything is interesting. All of the little nuance details that are normally boring become really interesting to me. But then, we’ll see if that actually means anything.
NB: It was great having you here, Julian!
Interview by Antonia Schmidt
Image Courtesy of the Artist
JULIAN KLINCEWICZ, IRON MIKE & BOYS GROWN TALL: NACHTWAGEN
POWERED BY NUMÉRO BERLIN
JANUARY 14-29, 2022, POTSDAMER STR. 93, 10785 BERLIN