Journey of a Rule Breaker [Read]
Written by: Tamara Devers
Photographed by Sarah Jennings
This article originally appeared on the blog, In-Transit
The first thing Julian Race and I talked about after sitting down for this interview was that we'd actually met each other a few years back. We were at a house party of a mutual friend and ended up on the same team playing a party game. I don't remember the mutual friend or the game but what I do remember with incredible clarity is that Julian did not play by the rules.
Not a great habit to have for party games but if you're going to spontaneously become an abstract artist, have an art show within six months, sell several pieces at said art show, pick up a camera one day "goofing off", open a photography studio within the year, add videography to your repertoire a few years later and ultimately become a successful visual artist all within a span of 10 years, playing by the rules gets left in the dust.
A trip to Los Angeles sandwiched between two jobs that he hated was the catalyst for the journey that led him where he is today.
"Going to California was a very inspiring four days. It was great. I came back all excited and then I started that new job and I was like 'This is a fucking prison on Planet Bullshit.' In '06, I was like 'What can I do to change the situation?' But it wasn't deliberate. It was actually more like, the job was kicking my ass. I was just really tired of it and I just needed like a little bit of a release of some kind or just something else to do that was productive, to not be all depressed and sad and all that. So I started painting."
"I started doing these abstracts and started painting stuff like that and I did that for a few months. And that was the turning point. By turning point, that was when it was like, 'Oh, you can actually maybe make something of this.' And then talking to other people about it, basically my friend circle changed, music I listened to changed and how I saw the world changed and all this other stuff starting changing."
And as he was changing, his artwork was changing, as well. Transforming from rudimentary, simple pieces to more advanced pieces that culminated in an art show six short months after he picked up a paintbrush.
"I was not a great artist, let me just say that. Trust me. I go back and look at some of that old stuff and see paintings from that time and I was just like 'Man, this is not very good, at all.' But I actually made a few sales that night, so it went well. It was actually my first lesson in personal branding. For me, it was the process. It was like, 'This is going to be my first stuff, this is going to be my next thing.' So you look at these stages and you're like, 'Yeah, I know I wasn't very good back then, but I was still doing it and I was still trying and that matters.' That's important. And then however you go after that, it opens different doors and that was the thing that changed the direction of what my life would end up being."
At this point, his job situation was going in the completely wrong direction and Julian left the prison on Planet Bullshit to take a part-time job so he could focus on his art. He lived lean for the next two years, perfecting his work and participating in art shows and other events around the metroplex. Then the unthinkable happened. He burned out.
"I was really tired of painting. My work was just not very good. I was not happy with it. I was like, 'Man, I need a break from this.' But I still need to figure out what I'm gonna do about money because at this point, I'm still self-employed. I'm like, 'Ok, what can I do?' But photography was not a conscious thought. I was literally just taking a creative break from painting and I was just walking around taking pictures just for fun. "
After posting some of his shots on his social media page, he was contacted by someone needing a photographer for an upcoming event. He booked his first client...then ran out and bought his first professional camera.
"I went to town after that. I was in it at that point. That was the summer of '08, I wanna say. That started it. As soon as that happened, every day I was running around, reading all the blogs, getting the magazines. I'm ingrained in it. That turned into something. As soon as I started getting serious about that, it was instant. By '09, I'd set up a studio in Deep Ellum. I'd made that much progress from one year to the next. "
Julian Race does not fuck around and I told him so. He laughed.
"There's no time. My attitude back then was like, and I'm kinda like this now, but my attitude was very like, 'Why not?' What else am I really gonna do? Sit here and starve? The motivation to not be hungry was enough. But I had two things. I had the motivation to not work a day job but then also to be something creatively, 'cause I had found this thing and I already knew I had something. It was just a matter of being like 'How can you leverage this talent and turn it into something?' I knew it was gonna be hard. I knew it was gonna take a while, but you don't get very far by being timid and sitting around waiting on shit to happen. So no, I don't play around."
He gave himself five years to become a successful photographer and in true Julian form, he made it happen.
But by the time 2013 rolled around, he was creatively dead and dissatisfied. But he'd picked up another talent along the way. Videography. Which according to him, saved his bottom line during the next couple of years. He also parlayed his marketing experience and knowledge of digital media into another side hustle. This time his artistic hiatus lasted two years while he worked full time doing digital marketing.
In 2015, Julian started to feel that familiar spark as his artistic inspiration slowly came out of hibernation. "It never leaves you. As much as you can be mad at it. You may say, 'I don't want to do this. I'm tired of it, I ain't fucking with it no more.' Once it's in you, it's in you. You're not gonna get rid of it ever. Even if you wanted to. Sometimes you just do stuff and you don't really know where it comes from."
At a funeral for a distant family member in 2009, Julian found out where his natural talent for photography actually came from. "That was when I found out that my grandfather, my mom's dad, who died the year I was born, so I never knew him, he was a photographer. I'd never known this before and I'd never seen any of his work before and I'm like, 'Why am I just finding this out?' I currently have some of his old photos. My mom retained some of his portraits and some of his other stuff and it's like, 'Well, it makes perfect sense now.' The thing that's interesting is that I did not know that until after I was already in it and I'd already been doing it for a year and a half at that point when I found out. Now, it's like man, I never had a chance to talk to him but there's so much I would talk to him about now if I could. 'Did you go through this? Did you go through that?' 'Cause he would understand. That's someone that's related to you that would understand."
While we may not understand Julian's trials and tribulations as a talented visual artist we can still appreciate his work. He doesn't just take photographs or shoot videos. He creates visual stories, using his camera and eye like an artist uses paint on a canvas.
I asked Julian what's the future hold for him.
"I'm not sure. I'm literally in the stage of trying to figure that out. I don't know what it looks like. But it's different."
Spoken like a true rule breaker.