A split second can make a world of change in a person’s life. When Julian Clavijo missed out by 10 milliseconds to swim at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, his passion shifted to something more creative.
Originally from Colombia, South America, Julian now sits in his studio above the Thinkers and Makers Society in Brunswick. His paintings sprawl across the room, large canvases filled with the innocent faces of children. Their eyes are like Julian’s; full of curiosity, embracing creativity, innocence, imagination, dreams and spontaneity.
Brushes, bags of plaster and spray cans adorn the walls, tools for the works he uses to change and transform public spaces to deliver his meaningful messages to a wider community.
How would you describe your personal style or practice to someone who isn’t familiar with your work?
I call myself a Master of Public Art, a painter and a sculptor because the three practices kind of overlap and contribute to each other, so when I’m not doing one I’m doing the other, or the other, and then go back to the same one.
My current practice is depicting the fragility of childhood in countries in conflict: social conflict, armed conflict, war conflict, family conflict, in general, and now making the transition to exploring or showing how childhood should be instead of what it is.
What was your own childhood like?
Both of my parents are psychologists and since a very early age they put me into every possible art class, music class and sport class.
It began with painting, and then sculpting when I was 14… so I’ve always been creating, drafting and making.
Was a career in the arts always the goal?
I was a high level competition swimmer, almost good enough to go to the Olympics. I didn’t quite make it, and the passion for swimming kind of left me.
After studying advertising and marketing in Costa Rica, I came to Australian to polish my English language skills. I didn’t want to be part of the big consumerist machine that brainwashes people to buy stuff. I said I’m just going to be bold with my life and create something that contributes to something, rather than taking.
I was considering study in visual arts and then I came across the Master of Arts (Art in Public Space) program at RMIT University and I thought ‘Wow! This is way bigger and greater, and a much broader perspective of the arts’. I’d never heard of it, but it sounded great and only two or three universities in the world have similar programs.
Why was public art so appealing to you?
Why? Because I wanted to create big art. Art in public spaces, I always saw it as huge, the big sculptures, the big monuments, the big intricate architecture facades that mean something, the big murals, so for me it was about the making.
If your interest is working with the public, working directly with people, and having a spatial understanding and a sense of community that you could bring into your art and vice versa, go for public art.
I have a burning desire to just go out there and show it loudly, which is different to making art for the sake of making art to just sell paintings or sculptures and express internal concepts.
How did studying a masters equip you for a career in public art?
At RMIT they teach you how to think and how to work your way through to produce your art. There is a rulebook of how public art is delivered and RMIT gives you the approaches of how things need to be presented.
My masters was about colour and patterns. There’s such a lack of colour, of patterns and symbolism in cities. Facades are basically grey or only containing the colour of the material the structure was built from. I really want to change this with my work.
The connections I made through the program, with councils and the people who are already making art, they were definitely very valuable. I think that’s what I got the most out of studying a Masters, as these contact and networks still remain today, which opens a lot of doors and gives you an advantage straight away.
Interested in postgraduate study in public art? Find out more about the Master of Arts (Art in Public Space).
What are the new opportunities in public art?
I have found it way more effective to work on privately commissioned public art projects. Every developer has to commission a public art piece, and they’re willing to hear from us. Every foyer of big corporations, they’re willing to work with us. I believe public art will be delivered more quickly and successfully through these private entities, so work with builders, architects, developers instead of councils, because it’s oversaturated already.
What would you recommend to people wanting to work in public art?
Be very clear about what you want to achieve, because not everyone who studies public art has to be an artist. Do you want to be an art consultant? Great. You want to be a project manager? Great. You want to be an artist who delivers art projects? Great. A commissioner? Great.
Do your own thing first and start small. That’s what’s going to break through. And once you get that reputation of you can deliver, the projects just come.