The Age of Innocence

By Lorraine Ellis

Fine artist Julian Clavijo is the only local artist I’m aware of who’s attempted a reverse transition i.e. from the gallery wall to using the street as his canvas! 

I liken him to an iceberg – with the tip being his street art participation. But there’s so much more depth to this Colombian-born artist’s work.

The image accompanying this article was commissioned for the 2017 Grand Prix and painted in Hosier Lane. The CEO of the race approached RMIT Department of Public Art for a student or alumni who could paint some pieces before and during the event. Julian’s name was put forward as a natural choice!

Formula 1 Management UK also requested a 6 x 3 metre canvas to be painted “live” during the race. Potentially fraught with problems, all went well on the day for him and his two assistants.

The finished piece was signed by the Australian winner, with the intention being that, as it travels, the canvas will be signed by all the future winners. It will then auctioned off with all proceeds going to Julian’s charity of choice – one that aids children in war-torn countries. It’s art with a purpose other than that of entertainment.

“The eyes peering out from underneath the helmet are those of a refugee child. It’s to do with dreaming big. I’m passionate about drawing attention to the loss innocence and destruction of dreams for children in countries that are continuously at war,” Julian said.

Julian has come to us via Colombia and Costa Rica and nine years ago he decided to settle in Melbourne.

At the age of six he was sent to an Academy of Fine Arts, so he’s been painting for a long time! Amongst his many academic achievements is a Master of Arts (Arts in Public Space) at RMIT University. However, it was only last year that he decided he’d like to paint on the streets.

Since 2013, Julian has been represented by Metro Gallery, Armadale. It was here that he connected with Matt Adnate, who was to mentor, encourage and support him in the transition to a street artist.

“I approach painting a wall as I would a canvas, only now I’m using aerosol and being a master of the technique, Adnate’s advice has been invaluable,” he said.

Julian, a participant at this year’s Wall to Wall Street Art event in Benalla, used a combination of brush and aerosol for his wall.

“I’m not proficient with the can as yet, therefore the brush is still my chosen technique. Aerosol is such a fast drying medium, so respect to those who’ve mastered it,” he said.

There are three other facets to his work: hyper-realistic portraits, pixelated portraits on wooden blocks and whimsical, personalised, commissioned sculptures.

He is also responsible for many commissioned, community-based public art sculptures around Dandenong. Constructed from wood, they are designed to be interactive.

Julian’s subject matter remains a constant – that of children.

“I do this is to make my portraits meaningful. They depict the innocent victims of war and some of the subjects for my early works lived in really tough situations and may no longer be alive! I see myself as giving a voice to their plight, using my art as a conduit. I don’t paint portraits as such, but symbols of childhood, which should be one of joy and optimism! It’s this I attempt to depict this in my paintings.”

What set Julian on this path? “Colombia, the country of my birth, is an impoverished and very dangerous one. My own upbringing was one of privilege.”

“I was cocooned and oblivious to the violence that surrounded us. Since coming to Australia I’ve researched Colombia’s history and found that most of the victims of the atrocities that occurred there were children – innocent victims of circumstances beyond their control. When I became an artist I decided that my work should have a purpose. Otherwise it is pointless, just decorative! In doing so, I’ve found my niche,” he said.

“As for the street art scene, I’m very new to it but I’ve found it a very welcoming one. My involvement in ‘Meeting of Styles’, 2015, led to many projects and some firm friendships.”

“The street offers a totally different and satisfying means of expression for me and these days I’m spending more time outside the studio, than in it. In the fine art world my work is sought after and collectable, but in the street art one, at this stage, I’m relatively unknown but gaining recognition.”

Footnote: The paint has barely dried on Julian’s most recent mural for Neruda’s Brunswick. Located on busy Albion St, the portrait of is Eber, a Peruvian boy from the Q’ero Nation; direct descendants of the Incas. It revisits the theme of childhood innocence and wisdom.

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