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Talking Cheap Art With Telly from 'Kids'

Twenty years since starring in Larry Clark's classic, Leo Fitzpatrick has become a respected gallerist.

av Caisa Ederyd
2015 04 17, 1:24pm

Leo Fitzpatrick. All photos by Emil Nordin

Twenty years ago in Larry Clark's first feature film Kids, Leo Fitzpatrick played a role as Telly, the scariest teenage casanova in New York. He then went on and starred as an actor in films such as Bully and series like The Wire – all of which have more or less turned into cult classics on screen.

But it isn't acting that's been Fitzpatrick's highest ambition. Since his gallery projects Home Alone and Home Alone 2 together with fellow artist Nate Lowman, Fitzpatrick has become a name in the art world – both as a gallerist and an artist. The Home Alone galleries have never sold art and play around with where and for whom art should be exhibited. As Home Alone 2 recently closed in New York, Fitzpatrick is planning on opening something of a Home Alone 3 in September, and is currently working with various art projects, including Larry Clark's print screen sale.

I met him ahead of tonight's opening of Slam Section at Stockholm gallery Steinsland Berliner. It's a show curated by Fitzpatrick that features 20 of his friends including Jerry Hsu, Lizzi Bougatsos, Brian DeGraw, Richard Kern, Weirdo Dave, Neckface and Dash Snow (just to name a few). We talked about the art world, not having any money, skateboarding and doing it all for, ironically enough, the kids.

VICE: So how come you're doing this exhibition in Stockholm?
Leo Fitzpatrick: Just because the gallery asked. You know, Jeanette [Steinsland] had come to my gallery in New York and she liked what we were doing. And she asked if I wanted to do a show in Stockholm and I said yeah. But for me... I don't know why, but for me I took it as an opportunity to bring kind of unusual work to Stockholm for the kids to see. And so the kids might see it and say "Fuck, I could do that!" or "I could make a show like this!" Just to maybe open up people's minds a little as to what art can be because I think art can get a little boring sometimes. So I try to keep it weird, you know. But it's all for like the kids, it's not for me. I like people to come into my show and be like "What? What is this?" So that's it. It's just to kind of like expose the kids here to this kind of art. You know, it's all about having fun!

Are there things within the art scene you don't like?
I just think it's too serious. It revolves too much around money. So you see a lot of work starting to look very similar because that's work that sells very well. And once you start selling artwork you stop experimenting as much because you know this will sell. So you stop challenging yourself. So I just look at stuff that makes me question... Like, why is this worth more than this? My gallery in New York – we never sold art.

You don't have it anymore though, right?
We're going to open in September. But the whole point was to get rid of the money and just focus on the art again. Because you know with the internet – there's so much information about who's successful, and who sells from what, that you can kind of forget about taking in the art because you're more aware about the artist's popularity.

Sometimes we do shows at the gallery and people would call and the first thing that people in New York would say is "How much is this?" And I'd say "But you don't even know what we're showing! Why would you want it?" And they want it because of the person's name attached to it. And of course we wouldn't sell the artwork. And then at the end of the show, the artist would recognise that we'd let them do whatever we want – we never even told the artist what to show. We didn't curate the art we just curated the artist and said "Hey! Would you like to do a show with us?" Because for us it's kind of an honour to have this artist doing these shows with us, so who are we to tell them "oh we really like this art." Obviously you have the art you prefer, but just to get anything is kind of great, you know. What I didn't make in money I think I gained in respect for sticking to what I said about not selling art, and just giving artists the freedom to do whatever it is they want. Which is becoming harder to do in New York because the rent is so expensive.

Yeah, how do you work that out financially?
You just lose money. I mean in New York we lost 20,000 dollars a year doing it. Luckily I was in a position where I needed a tax write-off, so that's how I could justify doing it. But when I was no longer in that position we had to close the gallery and think of a new way to do it.

And that's what's going to open in September.
Yeah. I really hope that young kids who want to have galleries don't compare themselves to big, "real" galleries. If you have access to a pizza shop, do it in a fucking pizza shop. You know like, where do young kids like to hang out? Bars. Do a fucking art show in your local bar, you know, you don't have to have a gallery per se to show art.

And so, for me it's kind of like a challenge to try to figure out where my place in the art world is. But I don't really care if a fail a few times before I find artists. As a gallerist I have to take chances. And I have to try things. Otherwise nothing ever grows.

Have you managed to build a reputation around how you like to do it? I mean, are kids approaching you and tell you "we just opened up our own art space"?
Yeah! It's funny. Because of Instagram you can talk to people all over the world, and there's this kid from London who was like "Oh man, I really wish you could do a Home Alone in London!" 'Cause the kids really love the idea – DIY, fuck it, you know. And I said like "Well, Home Alone is just an idea. YOU can open a Home Alone in London." You know, we can have Home Alones all over the world. It's not mine, I don't own Home Alone – It's an idea! It's a really simple idea. You just have to act on it, which is difficult.

And the other day in New York I was walking down the street and this little kid, maybe 20 years old, was like "You're Leo Fitzpatrick, right?" And I said "Yeah!" And I thought he was gonna say "Oh I like the movies you do" or something. He goes "I really like your gallery!" And to me that was a great moment because it meant that it was working. That the kids liked our gallery and that's who we're doing it for. We weren't doing it for rich people wearing suits. We were doing it for a kid who could maybe only afford to buy a can of beer but didn't have a place to drink it. Come to our gallery! You can drink it here!

When I was young there were galleries in New York were you'd go and hang out. Whether or not you bought art or cared about the art, it didn't matter! That was like where you hung out: at art galleries! And I don't think that exists so much anymore in New York. Which is a shame 'cause musicians, artists, and skateboarders – they need a place to hang out and talk. And why not do that at an art gallery? You know, as supposed to a bar or something. It's just a place to share ideas really.

So you had that kind of space were you hung out when you were young? Where was that?
Yeah. It was a gallery called American Fine Arts and they showed really weird people. The director was this guy named Colin de Land. And he was kind of an artist himself. There was great energy around that gallery and people wanted to hang out there, and it wasn't just artists, it was everybody!

I think for a little kid – and when I say little I mean anybody under 30 – a lot of art galleries and that sort of thing can feel really intimidating, because maybe you don't have money to buy art, or this and that.

You say that your interest in art comes from your background in skateboarding.
That's where it started. But, you know in New York, you're surrounded by so many creative people. Like, some of my friends are music critics, or you know, they write about music. Some people are artists... I think everyone in New York kind of tries a lot of different things until they figure out what it is they want to do. But nobody is ever content with just one job, you know. Everyone's like actor slash DJ. Everyone in New York DJs.

How did you work when you selected your friends for this show?
It's always really organic. I just start with one artist and I think "who would that work good with?"

So it's like a mindmap?
Yeah, but sometimes it grows out of control. Until I wrote it down I didn't realise how many artists were actually in the show. Because I just kind of like, I see somebody and I'm like "oh your work would be great for this..." I'm more nervous about them saying they don't want to do it. So for me just getting the OK that's cool, "OK, now how do we make it happen?" So with this show, I literally just started with one artist and then kind of just bounced around.

Who did you start with?
With Joe Roberts who's this young guy from San Francisco who does these crazy drawings and paintings. Nobody really knows his work outside of Instagram, like he's young.

How old is he?
Well he's not, like, he's 30 or something [laughs]. But he's young in the art world you know. To me that's more exciting than showing somebody who has a name already. And I think you can balance out both. You get people in with this name but then you show 'em the other stuff you know. That's kind of what I like to do: to find one big artist and one unknown artist and just kind of like even it out. I think by the end of the day they're all artists. Just because you make a million dollars off a painting and you make a hundred dollars doesn't mean anything to me.

So do you ever buy art?
Yeah. But I'm very cheap. I have a small art collection. I guess maybe one of the reasons why I found myself here, like, at this place in my life is... When I was 17 I bought my first painting from this guy Chris Johanson. He's a great artist and it was 300 dollars and it took me like three months to pay it. I had to pay like 20 dollars at the time. And that was 20 years ago, and that painting is still on my wall. It was the one thing I ever did right with money. I just bought it with my gut. Sneakers and music and all this stuff goes out of fashion after a while, you know, you're like "oh I can't believe I bought that." But this painting is like this one thing I did right. So yeah, I buy art, but I only buy what I like.

But you don't really invest in art?
No. I can't, I don't have any money! [Laughs] You know it's amazing – in New York they do all the big art fairs, like the Armory and stuff. And I go to those but nothing will inspire me. And then I go to like the outsider art fairs and that's generally where I buy work, from these little unknown artists. Somebody with mental illness, or you know, this kind of weird folk art... that's the kind of stuff I like! Whether or not it ever gains value I don't care about. Like if I just see it and I like it, then I'll buy it. But I don't care about the investment.

What about your relationship with the Stockholm art scene prior this show?
Nothing. It's my first time in Stockholm. It's completely random that I'm here!

Do you have a Scandinavian connection through Gardar Eide Einarsson?
I know Gardar from New York. To me he's not Norwegian. Nor is this artist from California or this artist from New York. They're all just artists to me, I don't care where they're from.

Alright. So you hadn't heard about stuff from over here through conversation? Like, the darkness, the forests, the fjords or something.
No. I'm not trying to bring something that already exists or even fight something that already exists. I'm just trying to do what comes from my heart you know. That's something I would investigate on my own. Not try to influence a show I'm doing. That's something I would investigate for my own education. Like, the gallery wanted me to do a show like I would do it in New York so that's what I did.

It says in the press release that you're bringing the East Coast art scene to Stockholm.
That is the worst press release I've ever read! [Laughs] That is so wrong. Just merely half the artists are from the East Coast. That's what they thought I was trying to do, but that's not what I was trying to do.

So that's the vision of the gallery rather than you?
Yeah, 'cause for me, I don't care about New York. Like, New York for me is done. New York's like boring now. But collectively as artists, no matter where you're from that can be exciting. I think it's funny that a lot of people think I'm from New York. I'm from New Jersey. So I'll always be uncomfortable with that New Yorker thing. That's not who I am. If I was wearing a Black Flag shirt, somebody is going to be a bigger Black Flag fan than I am. And they're going to let me know that. So I just try to stay away from labels. Because I don't want to have that conversation with that person who's like "oh you're not from New York" or "you're not a Black Flag fan" or "what is this East Coast thing." Like, I'm just me. Like I'm not trying to be no East Coast guy.

In my show that's coming up in September in New York I purposely went out of my way to find an older artist from California, like a guy in his 70s. Because I don't want to only represent New York. Like, it's very easy to represent New York when you're living there. It's a little harder to find things outside of your comfort zone and bring it to New York and that. So what I'm trying to do with my new gallery is to keep trying to get weirder. And pushing it further. And exposing people to things that they don't see every day.

I read that you wanted to open your new gallery in Koreatown.
That was an idea!

Is that gonna happen or is the location still a secret?
It's still a secret. The whole point was to bring art where it doesn't normally exist. I love seeing art when it's not in an art gallery. Like, sometimes I'll be like watching a movie and I'll be more excited about the painting in the background than the movie I'm watching. Like "What is that doing there? That makes no sense!" Does the movie even know what that painting is? Or is it just in somebody's house? I love confusion. So Koreatown is a lot of restaurants and pool halls and that sort of thing. The last thing I wanted to do is for more art galleries to open because that causes gentrification. Like, I like Koreatown being Koreatown. But no, that idea didn't work. We've had a lot of ideas that haven't worked. But it's just about taking art out of the usual context and showing it in a different way.

Nobody asked me to do this, I just did it on my own 'cause I was bored, you know. So now when it's growing into something more, that's when it gets scary. Like, I compare everything to skateboarding. Because I spent half my life doing it. It's the same idea as trying to learn a trick by yourself in a parking lot for hours and hours and hours. And then you land it and you ride away once. Maybe nobody saw it, but you know you landed it once. And that makes all the falling and all the pain and all the bloody chins – that makes everything worth it! It's just a ride away once! And that just such an incredible feeling. So I think when a lot of skateboarders grow older, a lot of them do drugs, or party, or this and that, because they're still chasing that feeling – that weird high you get from skateboarding. Me, I do this!

I always say when the opening is over, I'll be happy. Cause that means I landed the trick. All this shit, this is like slamming over and over and over and fucking jumping down stairs and trying to figure it out. And the other thing about skateboarding is that you can't blame anyone but yourself. So if I fuck this up, I fucked it up. It's not the gallery, it's not the art world. It's me. But if I land it then I feel great. You know, so I think on Saturday morning, I'll be happy. Even though it's pretty much finished, it won't be finished until Friday night when the people are in here. And if they're like drinking and having fun then it's finished.

You're also doing a screening of Kids on Sunday.
Yeah, but that's like some last-minute shit. I know Tony [Cederteg], so he set that up just 'cause I was here. But I don't know. I just do it 'cause why not do it? But I'm not going to watch the movie or anything.

Are you sick of Kids?
No, 'cause it doesn't really play a part in my life.

So you're not being associated with Telly anymore?
If I am it's not that big of a deal. You know, as long as people are cool about it, then it's cool. Sometimes when people get drunk it's a little annoying. But if people are like "Hey, I like that movie!" Then "Ah, that's cool!" You know like it doesn't... It's not something I'm ashamed of, or that I'm overly proud of. It's like something I did in high school. It's weird that people still care about it 20 years later. That to me is weird. That it still has a life. Because to me it feels very old.

But you do see why it's iconic?
No... I just feel like maybe nobody had made a film like that before, with like actual teenagers. You know like, Larry Clark... Everything that Larry Clark does... he wants the approval of the teenager. He doesn't care about what the adults think. His main concern is what's authentic to and what teenagers are doing.

That's similar to what you're doing with the art.
Yeah I guess so. Me and Larry are like father and son.

So you're following his footsteps in a way?
I guess so. But it's weird 'cause now we do this print sale where we sell his prints for 100 dollars. So it's funny that when I was 16, he took a chance on me and put me in a movie when I'd never acted before. People were like "we don't even understand what he's saying," and "he's not good looking," like "what are you doing?" And that was something I'd never... If I had never done that movie, I don't know what I'd be doing today. But through Larry I got introduced to art and this and that. And now, it's funny that 25 years later, we're still working together. But now, I'm helping him do a project. The print sale show started in my gallery.

When we first did it, the show wasn't announced. We never told anyone it was happening. Except for a few skaters, because we knew that the skaters would all tell each other. But we didn't want some rich person come in and buy all the photos. He only wanted the kids to own it. So again it was about the kids. Larry is such a fucking teenager at heart that sometimes I feel like the adult. But it's really admirable. For me it's really weird to hear people think that he's sketchy or something, because he just wants to be a teenager! You know, and how many older artists are making stuff that teenagers will pay attention to? You know, most 70-year-olds are retired. He's still trying to go to the skatepark and meet some new kids and get some new ideas. He makes me feel old.

Slam Section, curated by Leo Fitzpatrick opens tonight at 6PM at Gallery Steinsland Berliner, Bondegatan 70, Stockholm. Kids is celebrating 20 years and will be screened on Sunday April 19, for free at Klarabiografen, Kulturhuset. Leo will host a panel discussion at 4:45PM on Sunday at Ekoteket, Kulturhuset, Stockholm.

@caisasoze

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