The students from KBH Weissensee inhabit a somewhat special place in my orbit when it comes to feature emerging artists in Berlin.
So it was a total must and pleasure to talk to Julian Simon, about his first solo show in Paris. After Annabell Häfner, Julian Simon is another artist to watch and to invest in, from Weissensee!
He talks about his journey from skateboarding through the city of lights as a 15-year-old, to the artist cliché par excellence, exhibiting his works at a Gallery in Paris that is, without pretense or tiptoeing around.
Julian Simon is all in. Real and raw.
And yes, surprise! Instagram did play a significant role in it. So get your work and message out there!
„In the interest of realism and inspired by the praised, limited colour palette of Anders Leonard Zorn (1860–1920), Julian employs only seven colours in his works: black, white, ultramarine blue, ochre, burnt sienna, burnt umber and crimson. These colours allow him to depict the skin tones and lighting that is particularly dear to him. Julian Simon offers a realistic and offbeat perspective on the Generation Y, immortalising forgotten carefree and intimate moments on his canvases.“Galerie Chloe Salgado about Julian Simon
First of all, let us know how the cooperation with Gallery Chloe Salgado came about?
Well, the work with Chloé came through an Instagram-post by the French Site Point Contemporain, who ́s People were at the last show of the art-collective EXLEX which was started by good friends and myself. They posted a picture of my work on Instagram, and she happened to see it, and then contacted me about her interest in my work. After a while she stopped by in Berlin to check out my Paintings and offered me to work with her. I was of course super happy and agreed to it.
And how does it feel to have your first solo show ever in Paris, the total artist cliché and dream and then on top with a brand new Gallery?
Since I ́m here at the moment, I ́m actually feeling it firsthand. It ́s overwhelming but also strange to talk about it with people because it actually is the cliché and it ́s a lot of work that comes into it from both sides. Even though everybody has the romantic story in mind but doesn’t ́t know that it ́s also quite a hustle. I cannot complain at all though, haha. I ́m having a wonderful time here in Paris, and I meet and already met a lot of amazing and interesting people being here. It ́s super essential for me to have the time to get away from Berlin for a bit because there ́s a lot of shit in my personal life, and in the ones of the people around me that ́s been going on.
So just having some time, soaking up a whole different energy here for a second will, or already does influence my work in a lot of ways.
More personal than maybe visible though I think. So yeah, just being here feels useful in general, and I really appreciate the work and belief Chloé has put in me on the way here to make it happen. Learning to be the other side of the artist that doesn’t ́t sit in his studio every day, instead of talking about his work and everything around it. Of course, it ́s a beautiful thing, but I guess there is two side to it. This city is definitely super appealing to me! And I ́d love to spend even more time here in the future. The vibes and the people are amazing, and there are so much beautiful things to see. Much love to Paris. I was here before when I was like 15 to skate but didn’t realise it in the way I would now because I also didn’t ́t take painting and museums too seriously. Instead I was skateboarding in front of them.
Did you pick Anders Leonard Zorn colour approach first or after you decided to work with the neglected photos? This question is a bit like the hen and the egg. What was there first? The camera and the images or Zorn?
Before. When it comes to techniques, I found it the easiest to control actually, because those particular colours are able to mix every natural colour. Since I ́m very fond of natural colour palettes, I directed towards it instantly. So yeah they are my favourite combination to use, and after a while, you learn how to handle them in every way. I ́m still far from being there by the way, haha.
The Finger came a couple years later while sorting out the photos I took with my disposable camera. It looked super appealing to me because it was also a good study for me to learn colour transitions, so I tried it and it kind of stuck.
„I love the glow it sends out over the painting and setting tone next to tone rather than blending is something I really enjoy.“
So finding a way to learn to mix paints together with a fitting subject for me joining them. I broke my painting-hand pretty bad back in 2015 and was handicapped and unable to work regular jobs for one year because of insurance issues and stuff like that. So I spent all day painting. Which in the end I ́m somehow happy about because I had time to do what I want. That is pretty much worth gold. It was also the time I really felt the urge to have painting be my main thing in the future. To have the possibilities of just painting seems like the perfect dream.
Do you feel there is a real connection to the grown-up art world with young painters/artists like you? It is a well known fact how elite the art world is and how a few big galleries, museums and collectors dictate it.
Where do you come into this picture or more precisely, who are you painting for, how can a seasoned collector connect to your works and do you want them to relate to your works?
I think that there is definitely a connection but more than the differentiation is quite hard. I guess it ́s more split up between people, that actually understand what young artists, who are willing to work, are actually capable of doing, and those who just want to make money out of it and see it as a kind of status symbol to basically have someone ́s name hanging in their private collection, or in a storage space. I don ́t really understand the rules to 100% yet, but there ́s definitely black and white sheep. Also some grey ones for sure. I think its just a common thing, that people tend to forget that actually work and love goes into making art and the thoughts and hours of just straight up working hours of being your worst enemy. You are trying to make it happen in a world where u cant just only do a lot of work without actual money and supplies and food and flat and this and that. Surviving by art and selling paintings isn´t as easy as it seems.
„If people don ́t give you a Platform due to not seeing the person and the way behind the work becoming what it is and why, rather than buying a lifestyle or the sheer image I think it ́s going to stay like that.“
I ́m surprised at who is interested in my work, and it’s really random actually haha. There ́s a lot of creatives that tend to like my work is what I ́ve noticed, but more than that I can ́t really tell. I guess I just paint for myself in the end. It ́s something I really have to do, like for every creative person out there. Giving young people a base to work as an art-interested establishment or gallery should also be normal though. It makes their work also be better and evolve quicker in my opinion.
Most collectors I ́ve personally met were super interested in understanding the thoughts behind it before buying, so I haven’t really made bad experiences up to this point. I think it gets nasty when you actually sell for prices that are a little higher than to what I ́m selling, and when a lot of offers and everything gets into play. Money and status make the world go round somehow to a lot of people.
How important is it for you that people in your age can afford and connect to your art?
It ́s crucial to me because I would love it for myself too! You meet so many people that stand in galleries, who are fascinated by work that is unaffordable for them, and then on the other side
a rich guy who buys four paintings just to show off in front of his friends. I don’t know. I just like the thought of being able to afford art as somebody that doesn’t have a huge bank account. It still has it ́s price though it ́s not like
young artists should work under their price either because artists often also don’t get enough for their work. A lot of the time, just because a big gallery waves, the prices go up and it is out of reach of the people that it ́s actually intended to reach. So the balance should be even between good affordable art and the art having it a fair price. Sounds a bit utopic but I don’t know. We ́ll see what the future holds.
Père Lachaise Cemetery: Who ́s grave comes first? Wilde, Chopin, Delacroix or Morrison? Or maybe even Collette or Stein?
Morisson I would say, and otherwise whoever I come across first. Piaf would also be sweet.
I would even go further, aren’t they the only ones who immediately connect and understand your works, at least from this series?
No it actually varies a lot. I think because many young people also tend feel it ́s too realistic for them which I can even understand. I like to have more reduced and straightforward stuff around me but also love realism and the old masters of the 19th and 20th century.
Most people are roughly between 20 and 50 I would say. It ́s people that can relate to the street culture of the last 20-30 years, which I clearly show in my art, even though I wouldn’t put my finger on it. There is honestly a lot of older people that like it too. So I don’t really care who wants my work in the end. It ́s for everybody to enjoy, that can take something out of it and gets the feeling I ́m trying to capture.
Tell us a little about yourself, how did you grow up, who were your heroes and since when are you in Berlin?
Well as a kid I grew up near Cologne until I was nine with my 3 older siblings and my Mom. My Mom and I moved to Baltimore, Maryland, in the United States to start out a new life but came back to after 4 years and my Mom ended up meeting her boyfriend, who lived in Berlin. So I ́ve been in Berlin since 2006. I always grew up spending a lot of time in the streets when I was young. A fact contributing to that would definitely have to do with it is also skateboarding, which I took pretty serious until I broke my painting and twice doing so. When I started taking art more seriously, I cut back a bit on the skating since I already have screws and a big load of metal in my wrist haha. So yeah I studied fashion and Illustration before painting but didn’t really get along with the people at both schools and always felt somewhat misplaced, so I finished neither one of them and just didn’t do anything and started working in clubs or doing nothing actually.
„Something you can really loose in Berlin is yourself, and it can get quite ugly too, but I got the curve and started studying painting, so I kind of saved myself also from myself.“
My heroes actually never really had anything to with picture in particular. I mean when it comes to painting then people like Gerhard Richter, Caravaggio, Edgar Degas or Lucian Freud really get to my heart but I always instead used to, or still, look to a lot of rappers or musicians in general or fashion-designers and illustrators for inspiration. I think painting doesn’t ́t really scratch the surface of what’s actually going on in culture enough for me and mostly ends up in seriousness that I think I ́m trying to show by myself.
„I need to shut my brain off and look at simple stuff, listen to loud, ignorant rap music and look at what people are wearing or how they are acting at parties or whatever when I take in Inspiration to make my own thing out of it. I would have to say I ́m just kind of a 90s kid when it comes to that. I can ́t concentrate on two things at once.“
Let alone other peoples work when I do my own. It gets me super lost with trying to make individual items. So I’m more the person to just be observing what goes on around me instead of really doing the digging in the endless crates of what’s been done already. Some would maybe call it ADHD, but I think it ́s more of Mirroring life haha. Go with time, or go with the time I would say. Not to mention that there aren’t any good contemporary painters, I really enjoy the works of people like Helene Delmaire, Lou Ros, Justin Mortimer and others who try to take realism into various directions.
Please tell me some significant influences regarding Weissensee. Are there any?
I think what I really love is that no-one pressures you to actually work. If you feel like doing nothing, you do nothing. If you feel like working your ass off u can stay there and spend the night.
Also having studios, mostly consisting of 3-4 people who chose each other to be with, makes you really be able to unfold in your thoughts without any influences from outside while working. Even though when you leave open the door, you experience the whole university life.
I sometimes feel like a lab rat somehow though haha. You get this big room, which is literally a white cube, and you are expected to just spew your brains out in whatever way u feel like doing so.
In the end, you just have to show that you have actually worked on something. I think I couldn’t be the person to have a class every day and have to be here and there and do this homework and that assignment.
So I really enjoy the freedom and possibilities of working there and being a part of it all. Also walking around and seeing what the people of the other departments are doing is super lovely. That would also have to be a thing where inspiration comes from. Just seeing all your friends be productive and create crazy stuff is a beautiful thing. You actually kind of also have a deeper connection to the works being made because you know who is behind it and what the work means for them.
I heard a few times how close the bond is between the students and that it is quite a wild school. Is this correct?
Yes I guess so haha. Since everybody that starts the year gets put into one big pot and split into 6 groups which all have to do a primary year, you are more likely to find people to hang out with that study other things like sculpture or fashion or textile design. I think it really bonds the overall communication because a lot of projects really overtake more fields than just painting or just fashion for example.
I can’t really tell if its wilder than other schools to be honest. I think since we are in Berlin and it already is a wild city by itself its more because of that. Artist is always a bit wild, so I think for it being what it is, it is actually pretty mellow. Of course, there’s wild shit going on, but everybody is always super motivated to work and really appreciate the space and possibilities. I definitely have met some of the people that are the dear to my heart there. Everybody is just doing what comes to their mind. So a lot of positive and also sometimes negative creative energy makes everybody kind of go with each other’s flow.
What are your goals for 2019?
I really don’t know. My goal is to have a better year than 2018 I think. To be able to do some things in art I wasn’t able to before and to not lose myself in myself too much anymore.
Also actually thinking about leaving Berlin maybe for some time. Maybe Paris will it for me haha. I just want to have a clear head and be able to focus on working right and having good things and influences around me that really give me something rather than wasting my energy on self-destructive behaviour and wrong people. I also hope to see my mother gets well. She has been going through some health issues, and there’s nothing I ́d actually love to see more than for her to be well again. That would be it I think. Art happens anyway but working on myself is probably more critical for me. I ́ve been a complete mess for a while, so my main priorities are self-care and being productive.
Also doing things on time is what I reaaaalllllyyyy need to start doing 😉