Winston Chmielinski is a busy boy. Handsome, exotic, uninhibited and talented--it seems like he’s got all it takes to become the art world’s Next Big Thing. Add to it his impeccable style and impressive social skills, and it’s no wonder that this 23-year-old is getting so much play. We met a couple of years ago when I was invited to be a guest on Dr. Vaginal Davis’s talk show Speaking from the Diaphragm at PS 122. Winston volunteered to be one of the Chatroulette kids, seducing the audience with his sexy moves. The show was a hoot, with the hostess and guests noticeably drunk, Genesis P-Orridge and Penny Arcade both flashing their tits, me reading my obscene poetry and Vag fellating some random dude from the audience. Nudity seemed like the most natural thing--a fleeting Queer Utopia in action, so rare for post-9/11 New York. It was that night that Winston caught my attention and I took my first portraits of him--the first of many. We became friends and, to my great surprise, I discovered in between our photo sessions that there's so much more under the pretty surface and those rosy cheeks.
Slava Mogutin: The first time we met, you were one of the Chatroulette kids on Vaginal Davis’s talk show Speaking from the Diaphragm at PS 122. You were dancing in your undies and then, for the grand finale, you were served as dessert--guests were invited to eat cake from your naked body. What are your recollections of that wild experience?
Winston Chmielinski: I hope you weren’t the one who stuck a finger in my mouth. I’m so lactose intolerant and my plastic-wrapped body was covered in wet whipped cream, and some dude with a dollop of it on his salty finger just jammed it in. I had to fart immediately. I was all “smises” until that moment, and then I just closed my eyes, submitted to the licking, and clenched my insides.
Slava: Oh, I would never think of sticking things in your mouth! You seemed to have had a good time though. I love the fact that you are so comfortable with your body, and you have some cool moves too, which naturally makes you a perfect photographic subject. Tell me about your modeling achievements. Is it something you do for the vanity, money, exposure?
Winston: When I'm on stage I become a stomach with slits for eyes, so whether I'm clothed and seated or naked and gyrating I feel sick. This disgusting feeling is my base. So I figure I can get through whatever I've put myself out to do, and I actually feel like these staged self-presentations are forcing me back into myself. Like, at the Barneys spring 2012 video call-back I nearly fainted. It was day three of this self-imposed master cleanse, which is like perma heat stroke, and these rapid-fire flimsy questions were coming at me so I was gut responding from deep dank pits of intestinal plaque (the mood: self-questioning), and I remember just kind of folding over and closing my eyes and letting loose a babble about dreams. When I thought I was a definite no-go, I actually felt euphoric, having just failed successfully in commanding the attention of people who really don't give a shit. As for the vanity, that fuels the rest. It runs way deep. It's the Asian eye-bat, which is myth and fantasy and which doesn't really work for men anyway. Looks can get you really far here, but I started to see myself in the third person. So now I'm shooting for re-integration.
Slava: I’m fascinated by your background, since you’re the only Polish-Chinese person I’ve ever met. What qualities have you inherited from each side of your family?
Winston: Thanks for not lumping me in with all those Sino-Russians. Being a first-generation mutt makes me a genetic anomaly. I mean there’s even the term ‘hybrid vigor’ which describes exactly what happened when I went through two puberties, the first of which had me looking more Asian and the second shooting me way past the lump sum of my parents’ parts. Or we can fragment me and have fun with this, like maybe my genetic ingredients pooled and pocketed, and this oblong face distills a specifically Chinese prolongation of cultural erasure, but put a bag over my head and suddenly I’m a Polack with thick-calved ancestors from the Steppes.
Slava: Describe the differences between your parents--both sides of your family--especially in relation to your work, sexuality, lifestyle, etc. In general, how do they perceive what you do and who you are?
Winston: They’re very sensitive to the residue of it all. I feel like I have a lot to prove; my mother feels like I’ve fallen from grace. Both my parents would cut down new growth grandiosity in a second. I’m thankful for that. As for my dad, he’s really mellowed out and wants to come along for the ride. My mother hates rides! I remember we actually coerced my mother onto the Space Mountain ride at Disney World ten years ago. She started screaming at the loading dock and didn’t stop 'till we had already dismounted. Everyone else on the ride was pissed, my dad had his camcorder rolling, and my sister and I were giggling and totally unphazed: “Mom always screams.”
Slava: Tell me about the most vivid memory of your childhood.
Winston: I’ve actually just recently been thinking a lot about my childhood, looking for patterns of behavior that may have started there. There are all these memories of just being alone. I would wander off, totally wrapped up in something like finger-chasing a salamander or finding a four-leaf clover. I was also a really quiet baby. I didn’t cry and I didn’t talk for a couple years. One time a Christmas tree fell on me and I was under there forever. I think I was into it. Like, immaculate shelter! The womb returns!
Slava: You have a lesbian sister who looks more butch than you. What was it like growing up gay for the two of you and who came out first?
Winston: My sister hates the term butch. We’re just queer kids and things got switched. I ended up in chat rooms and my sister pummeled a punching bag. It wasn’t an option to come out and yet she did, and I was a wuss and a klepto and waited until prom to say “No, I mean, yes!”
Slava: I’m curious to know more about your kleptomaniac past. I can totally relate to that--I used to compulsively steal stuff left and right--books, clothes, even pharmaceuticals. Once I was caught shoplifting a CD of Serge Gainsbourg from Virgin Megastore, which was a major ordeal and embarrassment. Were you ever caught, and are you still occasionally stealing things?
Winston: I was never caught, not that I wasn’t careless but I was cherubic in the face. I only swiped things relating to computer games, so, money cards and expansion packs and the like. I was pulling all-nighters for this game EverQuest, and my avatar was a blonde and built tree hugger who played music on a lute and charmed beasts into doing his bidding. I had a roster of online friends I’d play with every day--my surrogate social network. I was abnormally quiet all through my adolescence.
Slava: As a self-taught artist, I always wonder, what are the pluses and minuses of having an academic art education?
Winston: I don’t know art education. I mixed together whatever would stick. Then I started presenting faces, and found myself living a little bit vicariously through my paintings, which I think sallied those original impulses. Sometimes I still feel contextually void and cease all work to cerebrally substantiate what I’m doing. That’s no good.
Slava: You say that some of your paintings “painted themselves” and you “just had to clean up after them”. Describe in a few words your process and objectives.
Winston: The way that I approach any blank surface is haphazardly, whether it be a canvas, an empty Word document, a plate of food. I’m a compulsive maximalist with minimal intentions and painting allows for implausible extremes. I shy away from control. I’m more of a preservationist/sentimentalist. So, when some spectacular interaction takes place between forms and colors and textures, I designate those areas as the crutches of my composition and tidy up the surrounding debris.
Slava: You often incorporate found images in your work, but somehow most of your paintings end up looking like self-portraits. How much of your work is borrowed/fictional and how much of it is personal/biographic?
Winston: It’s hard to draw that line. Almost all of my work references borrowed imagery, but I choose to distill out original narrative elements and retain only what’s wholly interpretable and subjectively personal. So in a sense, it’s all self-portraiture, though I’m now trying to steer clear of physical reproductions. I guess the impact of looking at my own reflection over a lifetime--curiously and apprehensively, lovingly and hatefully--has been profound.
Slava: I was recently invited as a visiting artist to SVA and I was surprised to see that a lot of art kids nowadays use fashion magazines as the main inspiration for their work, which often ends up looking like a bad imitation of Elizabeth Peyton. What’s your relationship with fashion?
Winston: “One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art.” Oscar Wilde wasn’t writing for the masses. I could care less for the industry as well. For me, fashion is a performance and, privately, a fetish. I’ve been taking steps though to indulge in moderation. More Hanes t-shirts and tank tops and paint-stained pants.
Slava: It’s funny you mentioned Oscar Wilde--I’m actually reading The Picture of Dorian Gray in preparations for a show inspired by the book. In it, there are so many interesting observations about art and artists, including this one: “To reveal art and conceal the artist is the art’s aim.” Seems like an outdated idea, since these days the artist’s personality is as important and interesting--or, in some cases, even more so. In other words, it’s not what you do, it’s who you are. I love reading artists biographies and memoirs. Are there any artists of the past or present that you’d want to model yourself after?
Winston: Jean Cocteau. He signed his name with a star. My signature spells out “Eve.” So I’m a little bit off, and he says he was too, but Mr. Cocteau owned all his peculiarities without making a spectacle of himself. He retraced Jules Verne’s footsteps and then wrote about it in Round the World Again in 80 Days, and I was blown away by his writing--inviting, beautiful, versed, never preachy. Holier-than-thou mentality did not infect Cocteau. The man made it through some serious stuff, too, like impetigo (pussy skin blisters) while filming La Belle et la Bête, and had a bad case of the opium blues, which later inspired him to write Opium, a terrific one-on-one with addiction. Cocteau did just about everything, and to the utmost, and then died in a chapel consecrated by his own hand with the gayest looking things, in all senses of the word. I love that.
Slava: You’re one of few artists I know who reads AND writes. When did you start writing and what are your favorite books or literary influences?
Winston: So, I’ve been going through boxes at my parents’ house this past week and I came across a dozen journals from elementary through high school, totally inane with their first pages filled and the rest blank. I never followed through, because journaling in that sense was the least personal thing I ever put my hand to. But I was such a follower. Everyone else seemed stoked to regurgitate daily doings. I remember scribbling ferociously in pencil and tensing up because I couldn’t write fast enough and then smudging all over because I’m left handed and write with my arm and hand all curled up. But if you look at my homework assignments from the same period, there are doodles in the margins and melodramatic poems on the back and fake incantations next to my name. Totally weird, totally me.
But anyway, back to writing. A guy in some nouveau-riche Beijing bar came up to me and asked to read my cards right then and there, and I said yes of course, so we cleared a little area and he took out his cards and did his thing and afterwards said to me, “You paint, and you write. Stick with the painting.” And it stuck. Writing has remained a private pursuit. Nabokov is always a favorite. I also really wish I had an Emily Dickenson-esque pen pal.
Slava: What I love about your work and style is the gender-bender aspect. We live in the Age of Aquarius and I find it very inspiring and exciting! It’s something that carries your work beyond the stigma of ‘gay art’ and tiresome queer identity issues. Were you always as androgynous?
Winston: Androgyny is a full spectrum and I don’t really know where I fall. If I’m flipping through a fashion magazine, I’ll identify with and idealize a female face and a male body independent of one another. It’s a body issue buffet. I don’t fit in physically, never have, and still want to. I even applied Rogaine to my face once. Apparently that stuff circulates through the blood stream and you just get more hairy in other places, which is a perfect model for how the outside trickled in, leaving me with a fragmented sense of self. I’m passionately working on reversing the process, or at least poles of emphasis. One-off-ness is my greatest asset.
Slava: Let’s talk about your impressive physique and flexibility. How do you stay in shape? What do you eat and not eat?
Winston: I’m grateful for genetics. My dad is nearing sixty and he’s a vacuum for meats, fats, carbs, and alcohol, and he’s maybe only ten pounds heavier than when he was thirty. I tend to jitter a lot too when I’m stationary, like at the computer I’ll do back bends on a gym ball and sing and dance and bounce my leg and stretch my arms and neck--which, now to think of it, is probably why I’ve never liked working in public places. I try to stick to weight exercises that use only my body weight, and now I’m practicing hand stands so I can do upside down push-ups at my computer, too.
Slava: These days more and more artists use social media and networking as a way to promote and publicize their work. What used to be considered “shameless self-promotion,” something demeaning, has become the norm for a whole new generation of media savvy kids who use Internet as their main tool or weapon. What role does it play in your work?
Winston: I use Twitter as a catch-all for mind splinters, that’s all. I’m so bad at giving back, or “joining the conversation”. My followers stay silent or I shut them up with eighty-character-long hash tags. I’m so sorry! I find that self-promotion through social networks is a game of I’ll click yours and you click mine, and because I’m rarely looking through my news feed I feel like it would be too presumptuous to post professional or personal achievements. Not to say I haven’t done so in the past, and I’m secretly hoping someone else will post it on my wall so that I can just count the 'likes'.
Slava: What brings you most pleasure in life and art?
Winston: I’m trying to think of the right way to say this. There are moments when I forget myself completely, in the sense that everything is, for a split second, integrated. Weather imagery’s bubbling up. A perfect downpour. Feeling naked. A genuine, spontaneous smile, coming from me and going nowhere in particular, just outward. That’s nice. I’m averse to sappiness, the image is letting me down. Another great pleasure? Feeling that I’ve been honest with myself here. Saying what I want to say.
Images of Winston’s paintings, courtesy of Envoy Enterprises.
We are all fascinated by twins, even more so with identical twins, and then there's gay identical twins! It's at this point that the interest in twins flips from an anthropological one to one slightly less savory. But of course we at EVB would never find ourselves sliding down that slippery slope. So it was with a set of questions that mined the issues of nature and nurture that I went off to meet The Brothers Mueller, Brooklyn's very own app-developing, arts-and-craft-creating, lederhosen-wearing ex altar boys.
Portraits of The Brothers Mueller shot for EVB by David Kimelman
Richard Welch: Who popped out first?
Kirk Mueller: I popped out first
Nate Mueller: I was born three hours later, which is a long time, especially for twins.
Richard: Who came out first?
Nate: I came out first, at the age of 14, as I joined high school.
Kirk: And then I came out four years later, in my freshman year at college
Nate: Everyone took it very well, except our parents. I think Kirk saw their reaction and decided to wait, but by the time he came out they were completely okay, it had finally sunk in!
Kirk: We also went to two separate high schools. You went to a state high school and I went to a Catholic high school, so that was another reason to stay in the closet. It wasn't really acceptable! However, having said that, all of his boyfriends came from my high school!
Richard: Were they all in the choir?
Kirk: No they were altar boys! Ha, no no, they weren't!
Richard: But you were both altar boys weren't you?
K&N: Yes, we were.
Richard: So I'm assuming you come from a very Catholic family?
Kirk: Yes, we went to church every day in grade school. We went to church in the morning and then the school day started.
Richard: Wow! That's a lot of church!
K&N: Yes, it sure was.
Richard: Tell me a little about your altar boy experience?
Kirk: One of our main reasons for being altar boys was the outfits--they were lavish. It was a very traditional church so they practiced many pre-Vatican II traditions. There were only altar boys, no girls and there were lots of ornate vestibules. We always ended up fighting over who could wear the gold robes!
Richard: Were you aware of the latent homosexual culture of the Catholic Church?
Kirk: I don't think we were necessarily aware of it when we were young, but we certainly gravitated towards the camp nature of it.
Nate: We liked it because it was stimulation overload--gold, incense and statues everywhere--and all in suburban Ohio! It was a great escape from the blandness.
Richard: What was it like growing up in Ohio?
Kirk: We grew up in Akron, Ohio. Cleveland is all about steel and Akron is all about rubber! There are like three or four huge tire plants.
Nate: But surprisingly Akron had a load of gay bars--they had one for twinks, three that were mixed and then they had a leather bar. We would go to the leather bar when we were 17 because they would let us in!
Richard: And how did you go down in the leather bar?
K&N: Ha ha, we were high school students so we went down really well!
Richard: Did you wear any leather--or would it have been rubber since it was Akron?
Nate: No, it was called Daddy's, it had a leather bar up top, and then a rubber crowd in the bottom.
Richard: Is it usual for identical twins, beyond the physical similarities, to also share similar interests?
Kirk: I think it depends. Some work and collaborate together, and some don't want anything to do with each other. It's like a 50:50 thing. So far we're the only twins we've met who are both gay. Usually only one is gay and one is straight which is really odd because you then have both nature and nurture against you.
Richard: Are you members of a society of identical twins? Is there an annual Twinfest?
K&N: There is a giant convention called Twins Day in Twinsburg, Ohio. Twins from all over the world go there. Our parents took us there from a very young age, but we stopped going at around four years old?
Kirk: We couldn't fit into our lederhosen anymore, and we simply refused to go!
Richard: You were quite feisty for four-year-olds! Do you still own lederhosen?
Nate: We don't but we'd like to get some, that would be fun!
Richard: Through your work, you're known for your love of ornamentation, and arts and craft, but sitting here in your apartment it's quite the opposite. It is positively minimal!
Nate: Yes! We're making everything white. All the books as you can see are white. It helps us rest our eyes because work projects get very crazy and stressful and so we like our living environment to be as minimal as possible.
Richard: How do you know which book is which?
Nate: They're all organized into sections, like computer, art etc--but we're very tactile, we know each book by its size. Well, within one or two guesses.
Richard: How did your love of decorative arts evolve?
Nate: One of the things that drew us to the Arts and Crafts Movement and the Aesthetic Movement was how it opposed the 'art hierarchy'. Artists like William Morris and Oscar Wilde were democratizing. They understood that we all make great things, so for example, to us wallpaper is just as important as painting.
Richard: By the time you were in college were you both collaborating on your work and also your 'look'?
K&N: Yes, it was the very early stages, even when we were in high school we wore blazers and ties, which weren't required. Other kids were just wearing khakis and Converse. We had always been drawn to a smarter aesthetic, and we just fine-tuned it and started coming together and playing around with dressing similarly. We have had a shared a wardrobe since we were in high school.
Richard: When you wake up tomorrow will you have already planned what to wear?
Nate: Yes. There's always a discussion, a bit of back and forth, but for the most part it's natural. If there's a big important meeting we dress more alike. It's not always exactly the same it’s similar.
Richard: Do you go to the gym? At the same time?
K&N: Yes! We wear the same gym clothes, but in different colors. Our trainer gets a lot of pleasure from getting us to do the same exercises at the same time.
Richard: Must be a crazy sight, especially with all the reflections!
Nate: Yes, we freaked out this little old lady. She was staring at us, and when we finished she came up to us and said, "oh thank god, I was really confused I thought it was an illusion, or the mirrors or something!"
Richard: Does the constant attention and the double-take that you must notice, get annoying?
Nate: For a while we didn't actually notice it, but we had a friend who was on the subway with us and he got freaked out saying "Do you realize people are staring at you?" and we were like "no, why would they be staring at us?" We know that people love the idea of twins and working it out, but we are slightly different in our appearance.
Richard: You are both interested in technology and decorative arts--those two aren’t usually connected.
Nate: We're drawn to the decorative because things we work on get so technical, so when we silkscreen at the weekend we're able to have time away from technology
Kirk: There's technology, and digital technology. Something like silkscreening is technological but it's a handcrafted technique that includes the potential for errors. We like silkscreen and wallpaper because there's a lot of repetition. We see ourselves as imperfect replicas because we came from the same egg but we don't look exactly alike, so it's just like printing wallpaper. We've always liked patterns, whether that's wallpaper or fabric or ties.
Nate: So we spent some time in our graduate work trying to bring in a digital component to our wallpaper, and that was a way to merge the two. That's how we created 'Viral Wallpaper'. It uses heat-sensitive technology like those Hypercolor t-shirts.
Richard: Where did the idea of using STDs as part of the wallpaper [below, top] come from?
Nate: Are you asking us if we got a bunch of STDs!
Kirk: We were looking at ways of elevating craft and taking things out of their context. Through researching we came across images of STD viruses and we found them very beautiful.
Richard: You have mentioned in previous interviews that you are rallying against the dominant masculine aesthetic associated with technology. Can you talk about that?
Kirk: There are different aspects to it. Early digital art was primarily from male artists, with a raw aesthetic, and so coming in as digital artists we wanted to be more finished, feminine and what we consider more beautiful. So with the 'Wallpaper Machine', we wanted to hide all the wires and controls and have just this pretty box [below].
Richard: Since leaving the Rhode Island School Of Design you've had great and rapid success developing apps for some major media brands.
Nate: Yes it's been very humbling, and very surreal. Our first gig was developing the Martha Stuart Living magazine app.
Richard: How do you navigate the demands of your commercial work and your art? Do you see yourself as commercial developers or artists first?
Kirk: The design firm where we work, Studio Mercury, consists of only five of us. We all consider ourselves artists, yet the work we do is commercial, so we're still trying to figure that out. It goes back and forth. We do a lot of commercial work and then we'll have a backlash and lock ourselves in the studio and work on art projects.
Nate: I don't know if it's that binary, if you are more commercial or artist, or vice versa. We have to have both. We'd go crazy if we were just doing programming, which has to be so precise and exact.
Richard: Can you tell us about the current projects you're working on?
Kirk: We've been invited to participate in Model Citizens 2012, a design show happening around the ICFF, so we'll be printing a new series of wallpapers for that.
Richard: There are obvious comparisons between you and the British art duo Gilbert and George. When were you first aware of them?
Nate: I think in our graduate studies, four or five years ago. Their style resonates with us, we like their work, but we weren't fully aware of their dynamic. They call themselves living sculptures and we see ourselves as living decorative objects.
Richard: Do you consider yourself a brand?
Kirk: I think so, we spent a lot of time developing this idea of us as a brand.
Richard: When I mentioned to friends I was interviewing gay twins they all chuckled and made a reference to twincest or some other sexually-oriented inquiry! Why do you think that is?
Kirk: We get that a lot, and it used to irritate us. We'd go out with friends and meet new people and one of the first things they'd say is "I want to have sex with both of you". Today we just laugh at it, and go along and play with it. There's something interesting about it. There's this reality that twins are seen as objects. We get people coming up to us and saying things that really aren't appropriate like "oh you're twins but he's a bit fatter than you", or things like that!
Richard: It's like you have become commoditized!
Nate: Yes, you either go with it or you spend your whole time fighting it.
Richard: Do you share dreams?
Nate: Oh, interesting question! We tend to never remember our dreams. We sometimes have dreams that are very similar, but we often have instances when, for example, Kirk will be running an errand and come home with a particular song in his head and I would have been humming the same song. That happens a lot.
Richard: Are you guys dating anyone?
Nate: No, not at the moment there just isn't enough time. I was in an eight-year relationship which ended in grad school, and then Kirk was in a two-year relationship and I was single, so this is the first time we've both been single at the same time. We've been focusing on career and friends.
Richard: Do your partners feel there are three people in the relationship?
Kirk: That's another issue. It's really difficult dating a twin because there are a lot of challenges. We've grown up sharing everything, so we maybe have unrealistic expectations of our boyfriends. It's a subliminal or subconscious thing--we expect them to know what we're thinking, because we easily see it in each other, and when they don't it's difficult.
Nate: Quite frequently!
Richard: Do you share the same Grindr profile?
K&N: You'll have to work that one out!
This week's East Village Boy of the Week is coyly not revealing his name, from Rotterdam
Photographed for EVB by Barry Marré
The boy's name is BOY so I call this series 'Anonymous'. This was his first shoot and therefore a bit shy so I kept the series a bit voyeuristic, with no clear face. — Barry Marré