Interview by Maeve Flaherty, photos by Charis Morgan
Connor Warnick is a filmmaker, artist, and fashion designer from Brooklyn, New York. He is a senior in Columbia College, double majoring in Visual Arts and Film.
So how did you first get involved in the arts?
My parents are both definitely involved in them, and so was the school that I went to from second grade through high school, but I was not personally very involved in the arts until college. They were just ever present in my life-- my dad is an architect, and my mom works at museums. I would take art classes, and I think I was interested in art, but I don’t think it really clicked for me how important it actually was to me and how much I enjoyed it until I went to UCLA for two years. It was really in that first year when I pretty quickly realized that art was what I wanted to do.
Was there a first class you took or something?
I think it happened a little bit before. That summer before high school and college, I don’t know why, the way that I was experiencing the world felt like it was changing a lot and I was appreciating more in terms of how much artistry really goes into a lot of the things that I enjoy. I had only been thinking of art as fine art and things in museums and not necessarily films and music and design .
I was a pretty dedicated athlete in high school, and I started to think about how sports could be arts. Basketball was my creative form of expression in some ways at my high school. Things were starting to turn inside my head. Then when I enrolled in classes for my first time at UCLA, I started learning more concrete history and theories and opinions about art itself and it started to influence how I was looking at art in the rest of the world. And then by the end of that year-- I was an English major when I started-- I felt very sure that I didn’t really want to be reading or writing about art or other artists as much as I wanted to be making the art. Visual art in particular, I found that I was especially drawn to, although up until that point the main thing I had done was creative writing, which I still enjoy a lot. But it felt like there was an imbalance in what I was actually practicing. I had done too much writing and not enough creating of images.
From there, I changed my major. I changed into the art school at UCLA and took more film classes. Since then, it has kind of just continued and I’ve gotten deeper into making images and things like that.
So you’re a transfer from UCLA. When did you transfer and what was the thought process that went into that?
So I transferred before last year, which would have been my third year in college and this is now my fourth year in college and my second year at Columbia. The transfer process was very bizarre. It was really not the sort of thing where I was desperate to leave at all. In fact, I really really liked UCLA, and I miss it a lot, to be honest.
UCLA is very divided academically. When I came in as an English major, I was in the big School of Letters and Sciences that most people are in. I also wanted to study art and film which are in two other separate schools. At UCLA, because it’s such a big school, you can’t take classes across two different schools, let alone three. So that’s why I decided to transfer into the art school at UCLA. That was in February of my second year. What happened was I didn’t get in at first, so I emailed them to ask if I could get feedback on my portfolio or appeal the decision, and they didn’t respond for a week. I’d kind of dealt with things like that before, because it’s such a huge bureaucratic institution. So I just assumed it was a lost cause, a dead end.
So I just said even though I love LA and I like it here a lot, I’m not studying what I want to study, so I might as well apply to transfer. So I did. But then about a month later, at the start of UCLA’s spring quarter, they enrolled me out of the blue in an art class, which should have been impossible, because I didn’t think I was in the art school. I thought they were just being nice and giving me a consolation prize or something. So I went to the office and spoke to the advisor for the art program, and they told me that in their system I was in the art program. Then I realized that when I emailed them when I didn’t get in, I had actually emailed them from my backup email and then stopped checking it completely. I was only checking my UCLA email and not my gmail. So let that be a lesson to everybody. You should definitely set up forwarding with all your accounts lol.
So I checked that email and it turned out they actually did respond to that first email. I guess they were moved enough, or something, by my email to let that serve as an appeal, and they reviewed my portfolio again, and let me in. So I was in the art school the whole time, and didn’t know it, which was crazy. If I’d known, I probably wouldn’t have applied to Columbia. So then all of the sudden I had this one great option--which was great, because I was actually considering dropping out completely without any academic options that I was very excited about -- it felt like I had everything I wanted at UCLA now, and then a month later I got into Columbia, and then I had no idea what I was gonna do. I took all of April to decide. I ultimately decided to just go to Columbia out of curiosity. I liked being far away and I liked LA a lot, but after the bizarre series of events that led me to that point, I felt that it was time to go. It felt like all these forces operating outside of my control.
You’re a filmmaker, fashion designer, and a visual artist. How do all of those things inform each other?
I think that my end goal right now is to just be making films. I want to be a director. I think all of the things I’m interested in-- fashion or costume design, visual art and art direction, photography, writing -- film is the medium where I can do all those things equally and create my own worlds with it and do everything all at once. That is how I think about it. Film can unite those other things. I think that over the 20th century, and definitely in my life, film has been the most influential art form.
So, popular with the masses and accessible?
In that sense, yeah, but that’s not really why. I think less so now-- now I think music and fashion are probably the two most relevant or omnipresent art forms in our lives, and the way those two mediums have come to be widely communicated is cinematically, or through moving images -- I’m thinking of music videos, concerts, performances, fashion runway shows, etc. But that sort of reality/ultra-reality was established because of film’s widespread influence, and screen culture and visual culture in the 20th century. And in my own personal experience, as a kid, I would watch a ton of movies and play a lot of video games.
Are there any particular films or filmmakers that inspired you?
As a really young child, my first favorite filmmaker was Tim Burton.
I love Tim Burton.
Yeah, I’ve loved horror movies more than any other types of movies for as long as I can remember. When I was five I saw Scream at a friend’s house during a sleepover and I was damn near crying out of love. It was the best thing I’d ever seen. I was begging my mom to let me watch more horror movies, but she didn’t think I was old enough to watch the real horror movies like Scream. So we kind of worked our way up through PG-13 ones. Just generally spooky things. So Tim Burton was not only the first director, but also the first artist that I was aware of by name and whose style I could recognize. I was five or six.
What is your personal style when making movies? What would you say is your process or your goal?
I mean I don’t know yet because most of the things I’ve made so far have been pretty short and pretty non-story oriented.
Yeah, I was watching Wonderwheel and it was very visual and there were incredible colors and it was kind of eerie.
Yeah, I really like making videos like that one. It feels more like painting. You’re not really ascribing any words or a story to it. I was kind of trying to mimic the experience of vision itself and how things unfold in front of your eyes. Memory was also something I was thinking about with that specific piece and more generally, with everything else I do. I think a lot about the way memories overlap and blend into each other. I feel like montage style editing and superimposition-- where you have multiple images blending into one image-- is sort of how I’ve always thought about memory. You can see everything at once from the past and the present and the future. There’s this filmmaker Stan Brakhage, who was definitely very influential for that piece and in the way I see things in general with my naked eye. In terms of ‘process’ or ‘goal’, up to this point, I haven’t been that focused on stories, but that’s something I’m working towards.
Do you have any story ideas you can give me right now that you’ve thought about?
I feel like I’m drawn more to themes than specific stories. I’ve never really been able to figure out why, although I don’t think it’s that uncommon. I think there’s something about death and darkness that I have been fascinated by since I was a kid. Even when I was a kid, my favorite characters were always the villains. The psychology behind evil is something I’m really interested in, and developing characters like that who are undeniably bad people but still have a logic and a humanity to them is something I want to explore. The best villains are humanized to a great extent, whereas there are also a lot of villains in mainstream films who are just pure evil and don’t really have any emotions, or an agenda, or opinions about why they’re doing what they’re doing.
This is kind of unrelated but I’m a big Sherlock fan and they were comparing all the different villains, and part of why Moriarty is so frightening is that he doesn’t have a set goal. He does what he wants.
Yeah, just chaos and anarchy. I think of the Joker too, Heath Ledger’s Joker. He was a really beautiful character because he was so smart and so well spoken. That was the scariest thing about him-- how right he was in a certain way. I’ve always found the character of Freddy Krueger, or John Doe in Seven, or even Darth Vader to be really geniusly conceptualized characters in the ways that their presences are always felt no matter where you are in the story, and because they have such creative methods of executing terror upon people who they feel did them wrong. It’s their own way of exacting their own awful, twisted forms of justice, and it’s a type of damn near genius-level creativity that I feel like you can only reach if you’ve truly snapped and lost all connection with or compassion for society. Characters like that are who I’ve always been drawn to, for whatever reason.
You’re also a fashion designer. You make really cool sweatshirts, and you were featured on the VFiles instagram page. Can you tell me about making those and what went into that?
What happened with that was also crazy. I didn’t reach out to them or anything. I was in class one day and my phone was going crazy so I stepped out and checked it and saw that they had posted me and my clothes on their instagram and they messaged me and asked if they could sell my clothes in the store. That was crazy.
If anybody else wants some advice on how to get your work out there, VFiles has their own platform, a social media app that you can upload your work to. You don’t have to be a designer-- you can be a model or stylist or photographer or just a fan, anything. It’s its own community. It’s easy to find cool artists on that page.
I made an account that week and four days later-- they reached out to me, and then I got to actually sell my clothes in their store in Soho.
You say on your website that your goal is to make clothes that address our inner anxieties. Can you expand on that at all?
Yeah, that was for the first season of the hoodies. They are all one of one, customized pieces. For the first couple of pieces I was asking people what they were afraid of and writing their fears on the hoodie itself. And there actually weren’t many images on them or painted renderings of anything. A lot of those were only words and very manic and chaotic looking. Fear is a theme that I’m clearly drawn to. It’s something that I return to a lot.
It’s very visceral. It’s probably the most basic human emotion.
Yeah, I definitely agree. And I think the hoodies themselves kind of turn out looking spooky and dark. People have told me that they felt afraid to wear them in a way. But I think that is one thing fashion can do-- help you overcome that and feel more free and empowered by it. I feel like a lot of fashion is about being very self-conscious and I don’t feel like that should be what clothes do. It should be the opposite.
Your website and instagram are under the name Orion Connor. Where did the name come from?
So Orion is my best friend’s middle name, which was how I landed on it, and then I was just thinking of the way ‘Orion’ sounds and looks it got me thinking of good color schemes and like outer-space and mythological imagery and that felt like enough to start with.
Orion is the name of my clothing line, but Orion is also a collective. There are other people who make work for Orion. I founded it, and the other kids are mainly longtime friends, people I grew up with. I envisioned it as more than just clothes, and the clothes were just our first endeavor. But we want to do other things. It's a group where our strengths and resources can be lent to each other. The other people mainly do music. One’s a DJ and another is a music producer/engineer/journalist. I really want to do a podcast. We all do, but we haven’t done it yet, which has partially been my fault for not making time for it, which I regret.
Orion is hard to keep up with during school. If you want something like that to really make it and succeed, you have to give a lot to it, and I don’t really have the time to give everything I’d like to give to it. But in a year or so I’ll be done with school and hopefully it will still be on the rise.
What do you have planned for the future?
I want to step away from making clothes. I’ve gotten the perception that since Orion has gotten recognition and done pretty well recently that people view me somewhat exclusively as a ‘fashion’ person, especially people who find me on the internet.
I don’t really feel like fashion is truly my passion. I think I started doing the clothes because it was fun. It became a source of income too, which is good. I’d rather be making money that way than working certain jobs or finding internships and shit. Though over the past summer, I found that I really wanted to have a mundane ass normal day job. I really wanted to work for a butcher. I wanted to be a butcher’s apprentice. There’s a time and place for both. In terms of the future, I see myself doing less fashion. If I did, it would be to fund films. I want to take a leap in my filmmaking and ramp up the level at which I’m doing them. Most of my films have been very guerrilla. Just me and a camera and a subject. But I want to step up my production level and get into making shorts that are more story driven and eventually, longer pieces.
I also want to take jobs on sets and get more hands on filmmaking/directing experience. I enjoy watching other people direct sometimes, even if I may disagree with what they’re doing. I always learn a lot from watching other people. That’s one thing about Columbia’s film program-- you don’t really get that experience here. It’s not very hands on. It’s aimed towards being a writer director, which ultimately is what I want to be some day, but there’s a certain point where you have to get past that more amateur style of thinking. You can come back to it, and I probably will, but I’d like to be working in a bigger format. I just don’t feel ready to yet. Film is very expensive. I think sometimes I feel like there is only so much I can do with what I’ve got. I think I’ve gotten pretty good at this format of short experimental film pieces, though I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered them by any means, but I don’t feel like I want to be making them forever.
During your time on Columbia’s campus, have you been involved in the arts here?
In terms of clubs or groups and stuff, I haven’t really been. At the start of last year, I went to a few Postcrypt meetings and a Snock meeting. There was one Snock event where I screened something. That was kind of it. I wasn’t involved in the actual community. But I’m an art major so I’m always doing art classes and meeting other art students that way. I’ve been in the end of the year semester shows at Prentis and I really enjoyed those. Those were fun ways to see what people were doing and think about what I wanted to consider taking in the future.
This year, I’ve been a little more involved. I was in the first Postcrypt show of the year. It was an iPhone photo exhibition. I liked that idea.
The Ratrock Call to Artists theme last month was “delirium”, any thoughts on that?
Yeah, I feel like delirium is something I think about regularly. I’m very interested in subconscious dreams and nightmares. I really like films and art that are chaotic and nightmarish, where it really feels like anything could happen and you wouldn’t even question it, no matter how bizarre it could be. I’ve always felt that the things that terrify and disturb me the most are the most beautiful. There is something so beautiful about things that are so unspeakably horrible. Something very visceral and subconscious, and I feel like delirium is tied to that.
So maybe we’ll see your work coming up?