Julien Langendorff is a young Paris-born artist and musician who often comes to New York to work and saunter around. If agnès b.
, matron saint of the arts, took him under her wing, it's probably because he is a genuine dreamer who soaks up American influences––Kenneth Anger, Sonic Youth, the Beach Boys––and blends them with his French heritage to produce collages, short films, and songs. Jeremy
and I visited him in his New York space before he left for Paris to prepare his upcoming show at agnès' Galerie du Jour
, opening on June 9th. ________________________________________________
Alexandre Stipanovich: How did your interest in American culture come about?
Julien Langendorff: I've been interested in American culture––in terms of literature, music, cinema, the arts–– forever. Since I was a kid, I've always been into the US. The first time I went to New York ten years ago, I spent the summer there and really loved it.
AS: Were you making art back then?
JL: Yes, I actually had my very first show in Paris when I got back to France from that trip. It was in a tiny, dusty bookstore with a small exhibition space. I just walked in and showed the guy a few drawings, and he said, "Yeah, you can have a show here if you want." To me, it was like showing in a museum; it was a big deal. Later on, when I went to the bookstore one day, I was told there was a note for me. It was from Thurston Moore, saying, "Hey, nice show. Thurston." So that was really great.
AS: What kind of stuff did you show?
JL: Mostly engravings and drawings… I was doing engravings at the time because I'd learned the technique in art school. I had actually wanted to go to École des Beaux Arts, the best art school in Paris, but I was rejected when I applied. Then again, the director now buys my stuff, so that's just as fine.
AS: How did you meet agnès and her team?
JL: I met her really randomly about three ago. I was showing some stuff in the basement of F.A.T. gallery in Paris, and she was at the opening. To this day I have no idea why she was there. She bought all my paintings in that show. Since, we've worked on a few exhibition projects together. It’s funny because we were recently discussing how she discovers artists, and it’s always more or less unexpected. But she sees a cosmic logic in it––being at the right place at the right time.
AS: How did you manage to connect with some of the great New York personalities (like Genesis P-Orridge, Jonas Mekas, and others), being based in Paris?
JL: I don't know them all very well, but I've certainly had encounters with them in the past. I probably know Jonas the best––he's close to agnès so I've met him quite a few times. I was in his group show last year, musique plastique
; I played guitar at the opening's concert and he sang. It was fun. The same goes for Genesis O-Orridge. I opened for his band, Psychic TV, with my former band about two years ago.
AS: You are also shooting short films.
JL: Yes. Microscope Gallery just screened a short I did with the artist Jason Lasser. I'm also working on a bigger movie project but I don't feel like it's ready. There's this technical aspect to film that I'm really scared of. It's easier to work with a pen, scissors, and a brush than a camera.
AS: There are a lot of Gothic and Romantic elements in your work, aren't there?
JL: Yeah, totally. I am really into 60s and 70s countercultures. I guess my work shows that clearly. But I am also really into 19th century stuff as well––its paintings and literature, like Edgar Allan Poe and Huysmans.
AS: So it's the melancholic aspect of Romanticism that appeals to you.
JL: Yeah. And the Pre-Raphaelites, like Waterhouse, because of the kind of subject they would paint, with those mythical backgrounds.
AS: You're also interested in black magic and tarot cards. Is it about the magic itself or the imagery?
JL: I think both. I've always been into the imagery since I was a kid. It runs in my family; my mother and grandmother were really psychic. I think my grandmother was kind of a witch. My mother used to tell me these stories about how her house was haunted.
AS: Do you enjoy fear or are you easily scared?
JL: I think my fearful imagery might be a metaphor for something else. I’m a very anxious person so maybe it's just my cathartic way of expressing that.
AS: Do you read tarot cards?
JL: I used to be really obsessed and would read my own a lot, but I've decided I'm not sure I want to know what could happen to me. So I'll do it for others sometimes. Tarot is very interesting, especially if you look at Jodorowsky and how he studies it.
AS: I hear he does readings in a Parisian cafe every Wednesday.
JL: Yeah, he read mine two years ago! You just go to this café and there are about fifty people there. You have to write your name on a piece of paper, so you get picked randomly––he only sees about ten people each time. And I was picked! You sit at the table with him. He does the reading. It lasts 15 minutes. It’s really awesome to meet him because he’s a very interesting character.
AS: What did he say?
JL: Well, first off it was very frustrating because I wanted to talk about his work, but he's really serious about the tarot, so you can't talk about anything else. Right off the bat, he started talking about drugs, which was very embarrassing because everybody was around—"I think you take drugs, do you draw on drugs?" He also told me some stuff that sounded pretty obscure back then but that makes sense right now. He also said I'd be very rich. I hope that happens!
AS: There's a lot of erotic female imagery in your work as well.
JL: Yeah, I am not sure where it comes from. The images are from erotic magazines I picked up in Buenos Aires and Brussels. One afternoon I just made collages from the material, which is very beautiful to me.
AS: Are all of your planetary and cosmic references related to astrology?
JL: I guess so. I'm not yet sure about the meaning of my cosmos-meets-70s pornographic imagery. Though people have said to me, "You’re into pagan sex!" [Laughs]
AS: Are you interested in cults?
JL: I'm very interested in the west coast cults of the late 60s, like the clan that formed around Charles Manson. That dark side of the hippie movement is really interesting to me. I've been reading this book called Waiting for the Sun
, which describes LA's music history since the 50s. It talks about the Manson murders and how they affected the city. Until that time LA was really laid back, but after that, people started locking their doors. The city went into this phase of huge paranoia.
Now, Charles Manson and Phil Spector are in the same prison. Apparently, they've been talking about recording something together, which I would be very excited to hear. Of course, I'm not cool with the Manson murders, but the guy did have a fascinating side that I can't really explain. Kenneth Anger is also fascinated by the occult and the dark side of the west coast–– namely Hollywood––which he describes in Hollywood Babylon
AS: Have you ever been to a cult ritual?
JL: No never. I would like to but I never have.
AS: From what I can tell, it seems that they're typically lead by people of the cultural elite––people who are also writers, intellectuals, and musicians in some capaticy.
JL: Yes, a lot of those people––like Anton LaVey who founded the Church of Satan. I actually have some of his organ music.
AS: LaVey gave an interesting definition to Satanism. It wasn't about destroying other people and rejoicing in that.
No. I've read some of his books; he used the imagery of satanism but wasn't a real Satanist––he was more of a hedonist. His philosophy was anti-Christian rather than satanist, if that makes sense.
AS: I see a parallel between LaVey and [pulp fiction author and Scientology Church founder] Ron Hubbard. They would change character all the time, and they'd find the story they could be the hero of.
JL: It's very interesting because LaVey had the craziest life before he started the Church of Satan. He had all these odd jobs, like working as a lion tamer in a circus, then as a cook, a gambler...
AS: But he was always searching for himself. Jack London, for instance, had many different jobs but they were all expressions of his adventurous character––his essence. Ultimately, he knew who he was.
That's interesting; you can believe everyone has his own path. Some people know their "thing" early on. Others keep changing and trying to find it.
Julien's show opens at agnes b's Galerie du Jour in Paris on June 9th. All photos by JEREMY LIEBMAN.