Appreciative Inquiry: A Coffee with Winston Chmielinski

Appreciative Inquiry: A Coffee with Winston Chmielinski

Winston Chmielinski is the kind of artist that defies a simple introduction. Over the past 6 or 7 years that I’ve known him, he has transformed his practice and career again and again in search of a truth about himself, about materials and about the age that we are living in. I would describe his practice not as a zig zagging line but as murmuration, an undulating and morphing whole that remains itself while taking on new forms. To name a few of his forms, Winston is a painter, installation artist,  performer, he creates digital artworks, and most recently he designs for fashion and is launching a brand. I know him as a deep thinker, and as someone who always leaves me with ideas that I mull over for weeks.

Vivian: What is your native language?

Winston: English

Vivian: What are you working on right now?

Winston: I am helping to build a Decentralized Autonomous Organization called a DAO. It's a blockchain organizational structure. I'm also running a fashion studio down the street, and I hope to be launching my own brand in the summer.

Vivian: That's super exciting. Tell me about that!

Winston: I started sewing six years ago… This fashion brand idea has its proof that I am the slowest mover ever. I just needed a ton of different parts for it to have the richness of energy that I would need to put something new forward. And that's kind of what it's collecting or what it's been collecting.

Vivian: I remember one of the last times we met you were making pants or clothing out of one solid piece of fabric where there was no waste. Is that the same kind of direction?

Winston: It is, and I am obsessed. I'm obsessed with processes like that. It seems like I need very tight creative parameters these days  to channel my creative energy. So the pants worked out really well, and I will introduce those. I'm also

thinking more about, not full garments, but parts that can be added to existing outfits. I know the friction of not knowing how to sew,like putting a patch on or changing a zipper or whatever–that stuff is freaky if you don't know how to do it. So even though I want my line to basically be like activations for existing clothing, I also know that people just want to buy a nice jacket. So I'm starting off with doing one item and doing it really well, and launching a very small collection [so] that each [piece] has a different assortment of textiles

Winston Chmielinski

Vivian: Sounds great. I'm excited. I think the 1 product idea is really something that's been helpful for me because people can get a clear idea of what you're offering and when they come back to you and they get what they're expecting.

Winston: Yes, completely. What I've been doing in blockchain has been the opposite of one product. It's been a community trying to emerge direction out of chaos. So I think there's also that contrast playing into this a lot, where on the one hand, I think the chaos is life, and it's been really interesting to watch people decondition and emerge as someone different in the digital space. 

At the same time, I feel like I come from chaos. I spent so many years actively not choosing a direction and just spending weeks  playing with stuff and never, never repeating a theme or, you know, every time I had [an exhibition] it was like a different body of work and my galerist was like, STOP DOING THIS. You're so confusing. So only now am I really leaning into this, iterating on a theme or focusing on one thing and it is so satisfying and grounding, but I wouldn't give up the chaos for anything because of the amount of ideas and inspirations that I could have, that I did collect. I love the layers that that's given me.

Vivian: In what way does the work that you do and the art that you create translate into how you dress yourself and what's in your wardrobe?

Winston: Ooh, I have a very clear image of like what my next look is gonna be!

Vivian: Like in terms of like your whole aesthetic?


My whole aesthetic. So one really defining moment for me stylistically was when I stopped wearing all black and I started to dress more like my paintings, like tons of colors. In retrospect, what I think was happening was… well, I never received active criticism about my palette, but I did feel very out of place in a painting scene that was about color theory and using a lot of grays… Whereas I was full saturation and full rainbow all the time. 

I had this moment where I was researching Southern Chinese textiles, and actually a really good friend Donna gave me a Chinese skirt and it had my palette on it. It was saturated colors next to each other and tons of them - plus pleats. And I was like, oh fuck. Like maybe this palette thing is in me. And it's not something I should be ashamed of or try and change, but I should just go against the western school of painting realistically and just be colorful.

Vivian: What is your reaction to being seen or being looked at? Like, how does that influence how you move to the city or how you dress yourself?

Winston: I find that there's a difference depending on how you dress, you get looked at in different ways. I found that when I would wear clothing that made me feel like it was constraining my body or shaping my body in some way, it was a different feeling of being looked at than when I was wearing clothing that was  open and loud, but that I could move around [in] it.

I felt like it shaped me as someone more standoffish when it was architecturally shaping my body… something with shoulder pads or something that was like corseted … and these days when I wear really loud stuff, I tend to have an emotional connection to it as opposed to  a brand or trend. The emotional connection makes me smile in it, and not like, suck my cheeks in, you know? 

And then the last thing I'll add is, wearing colored glasses has also changed my relationship to being looked at and looking at… I feel like I'm able to kind of see the world from my perspective and then also see myself as kind of ridiculous, and that ridiculousness makes the whole game of looking and being looked at much much less serious. 

“Fashion is not at all about covering our bodies anymore. It's about communication and its utility in our culture today.”

Vivian: How would you describe your personal style now?

…so my boyfriend Max is definitely more of the, like, put your grays next to your loud pinks to make that beautiful contrast. I'll wear something loud on top, and he's like, why do you always have to wear something loud on the bottom too? and I'm like, no, but that's the point. It's not about being a complete balance in yourself. It's like, all the way

Vivian: Do you have a favorite sustainability trick or swap?

I think that there can be so much dialogue around improving the quality of clothes or, you know, trying to buy locally or whatever. I think  the only way things will change is if we get more involved in having some creative agency in our clothes… if, when you repair something, you use like a thread that you love, or, if you  have a button that you've been holding onto and you put that button on… it’s those little gestures, if they're done with a hundred percent sincerity and excitement, [they] can transform a garment into something that you keep forever. 

… Fashion is not at all about covering our bodies anymore. It's about communication and its utility in our culture today. There is so much utility in how you present yourself and what that impression that you give off means. So why are we all not getting more involved in it and, and maybe taking a step away from  mandates or dictates from culture and like actually standing out in the only way that we can, which is through… sincerely choosing things that make you excited and happy.

Vivian: What advice would you give yourself a year ago?

Winston: I'd just say wait it out, you'll be in a great place in a year. I don't think anything should have been different over the past year, so just keep doing what you're doing… I'm really happy where I am now. I really wouldn't want to fuck up anything before. Everything kind of led me here, so if I came back as  this, like, all knowing I, [holy sound effect] you know, I think I'd fuck it up.

Vivian: What does adventure look like for you?

Winston: What that looks like right now is actually doing this project, this brand thing that I want to do, because it is everything that I want. It connects all my interests and it's scary and there's gonna be monsters in there. So to me that's the biggest adventure.

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