WILLIAM STROBECK BRINGS US INTO HIS WORLD
Mid-interview, as we walk through his pop-up apartment, William Strobeck stops to take a photo of a couple of fans visiting from Japan – needless to say, he’s made their day.
Since the end of October, he’s been sleeping on a mattress at his spot in East Village. In an effort to “bring everyone [his] world,” the skate videographer, director, and camera operator exhibits photos of his friends, videos he’s made over the years, trinkets from his childhood, and most intimately, his home. Citing the desire to be seen by his father (he grew up with a single mother,) and the kids who DM him begging to take a photo against his infamous living room wall, Strobeck invites everyone in: “This is their chance to come over…”
From clippings of hair that he’s had hanging behind his desk since 2012, to a 32nd birthday mixtape from Chloë Sevigny resting on his computer, Strobeck spoke to us about the different mementos he’s collected, the importance of having his own space, and why he champions the kids within his community. “My Lovely Mess.” is now open through December 1, 2019.
It must be so weird to have your apartment, not in your apartment.
It is so weird…I’m not playing, I get like a vertigo feeling when I walk into it. This is it,100% accurate. It’s not different at all. The color, the door frames, it’s all real. There are people that have been in my apartment hundreds of times, and they walked into this exhibit, and they’re like, “Dude!” It really hits them like it hits me. People that have come over and hung all the time, throughout the years, they’ve known what it’s like to walk down that hallway and come into my apartment. You wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.
When you were moving all this stuff over, what was that process like?
They took photos of the whole apartment. There are a couple of sentimental things that I was like, “If this really got stolen, it would be really bad,” so I left those at home. But I’m crazy tripped out, because when I walk into my real room, these skate decks are sitting in this room like this. Everything is so perfectly detailed… for example, we knew to place this frame directly here, because in my apartment it lines up directly with this shirt.
And this desk here, is this where you work?
This is where I edited all the videos and stuff that I’ve done while living at this apartment. If you look over here, this blown-up photo, is from my old apartment — that was a wall in my apartment that I used to shoot photos of everyone in front of it, around 2008-2010. But then when I moved here I got a photo of that wall blown up, so I could continue doing it for fun, you know? While I was working on “cherry”, everyone started coming over to my place so much and then it became like a fun thing to do. People would call me like, “Hey, I got a good outfit on, can I scoot through really quick?”
When you’re editing, is there specific music that you’re listening to? What are the key components for you for when you’re in your editing process?
I think it’s whatever I’m into at the time. When I’m making videos I want the next one to have a different vibe than the video before. I’ve kind of come up with a style of my own, really. I don’t want the same songs. I don’t want something in the same similarity, to skate to the same thing, you know what I mean? What would a country song sound like? Just to see it! If it clicks, it clicks.
For example the Mazzy Star song we did for CANDYLAND, you felt it. San Francisco, the atmosphere there is just so… not like here at all. It’s really gritty and stuff, but there’s a way to make it pretty. Every single thing matters, the person that’s in the clip, the song, the atmosphere, everything all together.
Are there any specific mementos you want to point out?
My friend Dylan [Rieder] who passed away, this is his shirt that he wore all the time; he got the cover of Thrasher in that shirt. Next to it, this is a shirt that Supreme made for him when he passed away, for friends and family. Tyshawn [Jones] wore that shirt for the first two tricks he filmed for Blessed. The same shirt, but next to it, is the one that Sean Pablo wore. He grinded the rail that Dylan grinded a long time ago; Dylan did it front side which is facing it, Sean did it backside, and it took him like 10 different days going there, throughout the course of two years to get it. After he did it, he gave me the shirt, so that’s why it’s hanging there.
This poster I brought in when I interviewed Neil Young who signed it for me. He did the soundtrack for this Dennis Hopper film called Out of the Blue, which is one of my favorites. There are Larry Clark’s photos in here. A long time ago, Cat power gave me this River Phoenix art that she made for a show at Max Fish. Sandy Kim gave me a self-portrait of her a long time ago which is in my room.
Is there a favorite book you have in this pile?
I like this Gus Van Sant book 108 Portraits, my friend Kunichi got it for me. Ari Marcopoulos books, there’s a lot of my favorite books here. Raised by Wolves and Teenage Lust, to name a few.
And so now kind of shifting to the exhibition as a whole; this is your first exhibition, and you have so much work. What’s the unifying factor that you kept in mind while curating this?
If I was going to do something this next-level, where I’m sleeping on a mattress on my floor, and everything’s gone…then I gotta bring everyone into my world. I’ve said it before, mad people have hit me up. Kids DM me, “My dream is to come over and take a photo of your apartment. I’m coming to town for a day, my friends will trip if you’d let me come!” This is their chance to come over and do that.
And for the photos, my team went through thousands of photos. On the exterior of this pop-up, they went through 22,000 photos and narrowed it down to 2,500 for the exterior, and there were a lot of duplicates to sort through. When I was going through this, I wanted to try to get every photo I had, and every time I shoot someone it isn’t just one photo, I do a whole 30 photos or something. I just wanted to make sure that all my friends were included in some way.
Is there one piece that you’ve exhibited that is your favorite?
There is a polaroid of me and my mother and it’s pretty special. My mother has schizophrenia and she was really sick. She’s pretty sick right there. That’s me when I was younger. That’s a really special photo. At the opening, she asked me, “How much is that?” I was like, “Expensive.”
The Dylan photo is pretty special. They all have some kind of hit for me. I like all these photos so much; that’s why they are in the show. There were some that didn’t make it; it was really tough to pick.
On the topic of skating, where do you think it’s going to evolve? Now that we’re in 2019, how do you see the narrative evolving in the future? And specifically your storytelling?
I’m curious myself, I just feel like I’m at such a high in it. I don’t want to stop now. I’ve created such a special thing with the people that I work with; it’s real hard for me to let go. If I wanted to, I could move somewhere and just chill. If there was no such thing as phones or the internet maybe I would have done that. But because I constantly see this world, I couldn’t give it up. I can’t let anyone else do it. I want to do it. I got so much more to say for some reason.
I’m 41 years old, and I’m not super young, but I keep making shit that I like, and I feel like people really respond, and tell me like, “Dude, keep going, keep going.” I don’t want to let anyone down by stopping. I’m like a workaholic now at this point. I just put out a video like 10 days ago [CANDYLAND] and then there is this exhibit, and what’s next?
It sucks because the people in my life get put aside, you know the loved ones. I love work too much. It’s weird I’m aware that there’s only time, you know what I mean? At times, I’m like, “I should be like living up by my mother and seeing her.” You only got one mother.
How have you noticed it change since you’ve been in the skate world?
Before I was just partying all the time. New York was very fun like that; there was no Instagram. You had to go out or you missed out. That was just all wasted time, but I feel like I needed to, and now I don’t party today. I used to be able to drink every night, party every night, and wake up the next day, and then around six or seven, get ready to go out again for 10 years straight. I can’t do that anymore, and it’s because I stopped and I got the chance to do some big things. I want to put my whole heart into, and that feeling was better than anything. I think it’s in my like DNA to create. I’m creative, and I’m really aware, it’s hard to explain.
Looking back at all the people that you’ve shot and it’s so insane, you always get them before they’re huge…
I help people, I try to help people. If people will give me the chance I’ll make them look as great as possible, you know what I mean? They don’t know what at the time, and I don’t either, but this person has something about them that I want the world to see.
What is it?
I don’ t know, it’s something that clicks with me. This person is funny, or this person is really cool looking. How can I use my outlet to try to create something, and it kind of rolls from there… these kids look like superstars. I just champion them as much as I can, you know?
I want to see people shine; if I can help them, then I want to, you know what I mean? These guys get paid and these guys have a nice life and get to travel. I’ll do whatever it takes. I feel like a big brotherly kind of person towards all these people. And even the girls, like J.R. and stuff. She used to be super open, but kind of closed off in the fact that I’m like, “Come on, you’re so cool. I want people to see you.” And she would be like, “Fuck that I’m over it.”
But now, she probably looks at it like, “Damn, that’s pretty crazy. I’m on a flag out front.” She’s super grateful, but she was closed off to the idea of being championed in a way. I used to call her “hellchild” because she was just super like ratty and stuff, she’d just be really funny. I was like, “Come on! The world needs to see who you are. I think you’re super fucking rad.” Her energy is really special. And to me, I felt like she was famous. I feel like she didn’t really want that as much.
Every one of these people, I want to show that they’re a part of my life. Seriously, I could move out of that apartment, and move somewhere else upstate and not do anything again. But I know that this stuff was done, when I was in that apartment for 10 years. I say that that wall thing is a time capsule; it’s what I did in my 30s. So there’s going to be something next, because before that, I was doing Alien Workshop videos, Photosynthesis, and all that. I had kids that I rolled with every day then, that I don’t even see any more now. Down the line, I might not know these guys.
I hope this thing shows how much of a people person I am; you can’t just be anyone and have that many people around all the time. I’m just a specific person. I come from a place where I was the only child, and my mother was emotionally unavailable, and I lived with my aunt and uncle, and it was pretty wild. And I didn’t have a dad, they always say only children are always doing something, kind of showing off in a way, spewing stuff, because they want their dad to see it. It’s like a weird animal thing. I always wonder if this is just spewing out of me because it’s like, “See this, find me.” I don’t know.
But it’s amazing that you found this community that’s so family-oriented.
A lot of skateboarders come from homes like where I came from. You just want to get away from your reality. It’s like your singular reality with everyone. Everyone’s hanging out together, but they’re their own. They do what they want. That’s why skateboarding is so attractive. You tell everyone to fuck off, even the people you’re with, because you’re in your own lane, but you’re with a crew of people that all have their own thing. And with these kids, they’re all very much themselves, and they’re all different; all together they make such a powerful thing, they hit every bracket; their styles, their personalities, the way they look. There’s not two of the same. It’s cool because they really naturally fell into it too; they were who I would have grown up with; regular kids that hung out a skate shop. They’re like me and all my friends when we were younger. We found a group of kids, that were just like the misfits in town, and we rolled together. That’s how it feels.
Images Courtesy of Milk DGTL.
Stay tuned to Milk for more gallery coverage.