Claudio Kirac is an abnormal human being. Firstly, he looks weird. He generally rocks a growth of thick black facial hair, bold rimmed coke bottle glasses and has a designer’s taste in clothes. Claudio always has wicked shoes on.Secondly, he’s one of those extremely talented people that want to make you vomit because they’re just so damn good at everything they put their mind to.Claudio (or CK, as he is often referred) is not only an accomplished painter, drawer, photographer, editor, public speaker, performer and musician but on top of it all he’s a really good, down to earth, funny bloke. What a prick. I kind of want to hate him but, as I said, you can’t, he’s a good bloke. Oh yeah, he’s got a smoking hot, talented girlfriend too, her name is Jaimee. Jealous yet?
This freak of nature was born into the world in a small town near Canberra called Queanbeyan to Yugoslav parents. At the age of 6 the Kirac family broke the bonds of inland living and headed for Queensland, “We kind of moved around a lot as a kid, like I lived in lots of different houses. Dad was always building new houses and moving around and then he saw the Gold Coast as a happening place so we moved here in 1985.” Claudio informed me when we caught up for a chat over some spicy Thai near his house in Miami, Qld. “I started school here in grade 4 and started solidly in grade 5 at Merrimac Primary, then Merrimac High and met a lot of good friends there and artists and musicians who I grew up with and to this day still associate with.It became evident quite early in Claudio’s life that he had a flair and passion for artistic endeavours, something that would lead to his career as an artist/designer in the surf industry. “I’ve got pictures and scans from when mum had a cook book, when I was little, she’s still got it now, it’s this book that she’s like hand written all of her recipes in Yugoslav, it was a thick book that she made by hand, and then every 2nd page I’d draw pictures. I’d like, get it out and say ‘mum can I draw in your book?’, and she was like okay, as long as I didn’t draw on the back of the recipes because the felt tip pen would go through it! I did that on a couple and I got in trouble, but I sort of took my own section way up in the back. I’d draw in that, and just sit on the ground with two or three pens or a packet of felt tips and draw things like Star Wars (click the thumbs just below!) and Garfield, Alf, Ghostbusters and make up my own characters, heaps of cartooning, lots of sci-fi, lots of horrors, you know all the 80’s things that we loved when we were growing up.I was always drawing, just heaps, and at school I was always wanting to finish the creative writing so I could do the picture that went along with it. So I’d do the creative writing really quick, make a quick story and then do the picture. It kept on moving like that and then I won a couple of awards through primary school and high school, so I was always at the forefront of that art thing. I was always ‘Claude the Drawer’, you know, he can draw anything, he’s unreal’.
So leaving high school all I wanted to do was just get a job in art, and I didn’t understand where to come from and what you could do and what could make money. That was graduating in 1993 and my teachers were like, ‘you’ve got to go to uni, you can’t just leave today, day dot, what are you going to do?’ And I was like ‘I’m just going to do art!’ I had this really weird headspace about it then, thinking that I could. But I didn’t know any options that were available, there weren’t things available like there is now for kids coming out of school, the graphic diplomas you can do and the advancement of computers and all that, it’s just crazy now. There was like, a Fine Arts, Bachelor of Arts and then Silver Smithing and something else and I just didn’t understand. It was really difficult to pick a course at uni, so I just didn’t go to uni, that was it, I just didn’t do it. I did do a freelance cartooning course, I did some skateboard graphics, but I only made $80, but I was like I’m going to do this, this is cool. A company bought my graphics so I was keen, I was going to do skaties and work for companies in America and all this, it was just really hard you know, you’re only 17, you don’t know what to do.”
Unfortunately for Claudio ambition and talent wasn’t quite enough to get an artist job anywhere on the Gold Coast at that time. “I was trying to get art jobs, and I got a few but not a lot so what I ended up doing was working in a factory, making surfboard blanks at Southcoast Foam and Fibreglass because I really loved surfing and going body boarding, it was in the surf industry and I was excited. It was just really bad for your health, shocking you know, foam dust and stuff. I was actually blowing the blanks, making the blanks in the moulds. There was an old guy that was doing it for like 30 years he would make the chemicals and put them in the mould and I’d do the timers and make sure it was all right then pull them out and have the blanks. Then I got to the stage of putting stringers in, working on the bansaw, spray painting some and just general duties. I ended up leaving because of some health issues, not directly related, but had a bad fall on a ladder and some other stuff. So I left that and sort of got on the Dole for a solid 5 years.”
While on the Dole, Claudio was still doing skate graphics for some people, cartooning, busking and other freelance design jobs but continued to find it hard to hit that next level. “I was always trying to get out more with it but there were still no options, not like today where designers are like super stars, they’re full on, you know like designers and fashion and graphics and music, they’re like rock stars now, and it wasn’t like that then, to a degree it was but not like now. I’d door knock for ages on hot days trying to get work, I still have the lists of the people that I’ve been to and the rejection letters and that sort of stuff. You keep those for some reason, which is interesting. I was only getting little jobs, so I undertook a business course called NEIS, they paid you for another year on the Dole and they didn’t hassle you, you just had to have a business plan and make it happen. So I started doing my business of Fusion Art, like skateboards with the fusion of music culture, skateboarding, fashion, all that sort of stuff. I had my 20th and 21st birthday around that time, ’96, ’97. Mum gave me some money and we didn’t have much money but the money that she had, she gave me and I started skaties. It was really tough because you’re doing everything and you’re still only 20 years old and I’ve got no business savvy or business sense, I’m just a designer and artist. So that was hard to juggle, especially at a young age.”“The business thing was good but not great in the end, but I’d got media coverage and made a lot of friends and learnt a lot of lessons. I wanted to undertake a diploma in graphic design, because I was good at everything like drawing and manipulating things with my hands but I still didn’t have that computer based knowledge of where it was heading. So I went and did a diploma for one year in graphic design and the government agreed to pay me for a whole year again and not hassle me. It was a bit of a hassle to get there but I promised them this would be it, I’d be stoked, I’m going to get a job after this! After that year in 1998 I did work experience at Billabong. They had just moved into their new building and I actually got a print in the range when I was doing my work experience, with my handscript which has since become quite famous. I did a hand script with a mouse, just Billabong, the art director’s saw it and loved it and it was all on. They were excited and they got me working on more advanced stuff during my work experience which is pretty rare like that. I was like ‘oh man’. And there wasn’t a lot of jobs going but I’d managed to make an impression when my 8 weeks had come up. So then in 1999, I’d just had the beautiful summer, surfing and getting paid up until Jan/Feb and then that was it, I had to look again, I had to go door knocking.”
This time around Claudio found that with his newfound knowledge and skills people were a lot more positive in offering employment. “There was just this whole new vibe over me, like I felt better about stuff, about approaching people because I could say, ‘yeah I can lay that up’ or ‘yeah I can do this’ even though I hadn’t had much real world experience with graphic design and all that. I topped the class at my school and won the award for best folio and inspired all my fellow students. I always aim to sort of do that. To be the best at what I can do, but not perfectionist. I’ll just do it as good as I can, which is usually alright and I’ll settle for it. You’ve always got more where that came from and it’s sweet, you’ve got to always think ideas are endless, whatever you didn’t touch on in this project you can do in the next one so it’s fine.”
A full time job opportunity finally came through in the form of an ad and production artist for Morrison Media across all of their magazines. However it was short lived. “This production job had come up at Billabong to succeed someone else who was moving on. I was thinking ‘how am I going to tell my bosses at Morrison Media, who had given me a chance that I kind of really wanted this job at Billabong?’ That day they called me in for a meeting said, ‘listen your great with everything except your speed, we need it really quick, it’s not quick enough and we’re really sorry but we have to let you go’. There were a few tears and stuff and I actually just said ‘well I’ve been sort of offered something so I’d be happy to go.’ It was mutual in the end, everyone was happy, it was cool. It was no problem.’ It seemed like fate had handed Claudio an easy ticket into the job he’s always wanted.
However it wasn’t as glamorous as he first thought. “So then yeah, the ultimate bottom of the line crap kicking job at Billabong. They said ‘will you get bored?’ and I was ‘No! It’s cool man, I’ll do it, I need a job, I’ll be happy. Minimum starting wage, like crazy minimum compared to these days and that was that.” Claudio immediately kicked into gear and put in some hard work, letting his natural talent shine through to impress his new employers. “I got so quick at my job that I started to do extra bits in between, like graphics, because I love graphics, so I couldn’t help myself but grab the latest logo and look at the latest colours and put them together and pump out all this stuff. People where seeing that and going ‘oh man, this is good, we need to move this guy on pretty quick.’So a position came up in marketing and I moved into marketing and ads for years, it was like doing an actual degree in marketing, you learn so much about everything associated with it, all the psychological as well as the creative design aspect stuff and that was really good. So I was marketing for four years and then into more of a creative conceptual role, streamlining me more, and then streamlined me more to where I am today, which is the Creative Concept Director. I concept a lot of the stuff that we talk about and brainstorm, we actually make it come to life.” No doubt you’ve seen Claude’s work in print in the way of Von Zipper photography, Billabong logos and prints and even the latest Von Zipper artist collaborations range, VZERIES.
You would think that this is the end of Claudio Kirac’s mini biography. We’re up to present day. He’s made it, through struggling times on the dole to realise his dream of becoming a recognised designer and artist! That would be enough for most normal people, but as I said before Claudio is anything but ‘normal’.We now enter the life of Claudio’s alter ego, ‘CK’.CK is ‘a modern day renaissance man’ who has managed to exhibit works all over the world, in places like Vienna, Paris, Tokyo, LA and New York. This is the ‘CK’ of ABCK fame, Semi-permanent Design Conference fame and Sneaky Sound System video clip fame. In my mind I’ve split Claude into two people to make myself feel better about my own underachieving life, it helps ease the pain a little.One of CK’s more well known ventures was his partnership with fellow Gold Coast artist and then girlfriend Amber Bignell. Together they formed the design duo of ABCK (their initials in case you’re mentally handicapped.)
“Oh man, that chilli is hotter than normal.” CK coughs after finishing his last bite of Green Curry Chicken. “Ah I started working with Amber in creative concepts and stuff in 1998/1999 sort of at the end of my schooling. We met locally through friends, that was cool, we were friends for ages and then sort of got together as partners and we just started working on things and the friends that were around us were very influenced with music and art.” “ABCK went for a good 6 years or so, in that time we published a book, had an art show in Austria, got Zine’s and things in Colette in Paris, so it was always to the high end of the scale, even though we’re based on the Gold Coast it was like sending your stuff to the world and really pushing that sort of thing you know. Also we were creatively directing campaigns for Von Zipper all those years, we were doing heaps, all the photography, all the lay outs and stuff.”
One of the main achievements of ABCK was to help form Undergold, a Gold Coast based art group with Beau Velasco and Christian Halford. “We came together as four and said, let’s do an art show, because it was semi unheard of on the coast here as a youth scene to do that.”Undergold’s first art show was in a Lounge Bar at Main Beach on the Gold Coast and was a resounding success. “We had a massive turn out to that, we had like a couple of hundred people on a Saturday night, and we had some backing from VZ and they did some tee-shirts for us, Undergold tees. All of us had our own little style of art and how it went, a couple of pieces sold that night but the main thing was that people were out and in the venue and looking at contemporary art, it was cool. Then everyone was like, ‘so when’s the next one? Is it a couple of months?’, and we were like, we don’t know? But it’s just been rad.”
The next show followed the next year at Elsewhere in Surfers Paradise “We had the whole club this time to deck it out, plus a bigger budget to get lighting and stuff so we could get sight specific pieces with lighting. We had a Thursday night opening for a Friday, Sat, Sun show. We had a great opening with media and we got the Gold Coast City Art Gallery there, they said ‘good job guys this is amazing, it’s great to see’ and a few other people, local media and celebrities and we did our press releases earlier and got into Black+White magazine, Tokion from NY and a few other websites so it was just a bit more rumbling, a much more polished show, really exciting for that Thursday Opening and Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Then it was on for the club, it was open for the next month, the art was up there and we sold pretty much everything from that show, and bigger prices and everything, everyone sold everything over that month. For that sort of thing, that is like homemade put together it was crazy. Then Christian went overseas to Edinborough, Beau started doing more music and moved to New York and Amber and I continued doing to ABCK. So there were no more Undergold shows but it was just a really good thing, really exciting to be part of a local movement and inspire the next generations coming up.”
ABCK were also invited to speak at the distinguished Semi-Permanent Design Conference Sydney in 2006, something CK rates as one of the highlights of his career. “I think I dropped it to them one year, you know, I said, if you always want to get a good speaker I’ll speak. I didn’t know if it would come up but they emailed me at the end of the year one year, they were like, ‘do you guys want to speak as ABCK?’, and I was like ‘yeah for sure!!’ Then I thought about what I committed to and I was like, woah! I’d never spoken to that big of a crowd, performance wise yeah, music and hip hop and DJing no problem, but 2000 people in a room, it’s maybe easier than 10 people, but maybe not. I’d seen enough speeches to know what worked and what didn’t, you have to be organised, you can’t dawdle on, you have to have a bit of comedy, you can’t be too serious and you can’t be too crazy, you know, so all those things are put together. It was unreal and it worked well, I spoke and Amber spoke and drove the laptop and I did commando rolls and threw out gifts and shirts and things, all the things that people just love, rolled it into one, because you only get one chance at that stuff, so it was cool, we did it well, and it had good repercussions.”
CK must have done something right, he was asked back to speak at Semi Permanent in Brisbane earlier this year in front of a home crowd. However, not too long after the 2006 conference ABCK split up due to various circumstances. “In the end ABCK got a bit too much to a degree, working and living together. I think if I did something now it would be a lot different, I could deal with it, working with a creative partner, which is great, you’ve just got to have that balance. With ABCK the balance wasn’t right in the end, we were always working. Now I sort of stop and have leisure time and make sure you’re doing other things with your partner that aren’t work related, which is really important to that success.”The success seems to be rolling still for Claudio. You have probably seen his furry body squeezed into tight pink hot pants on your T.V. screen in the past year. He was asked by a French film director to take a part in the recent ‘UFO’ music video for Sneaky Sound System.
“It happened through friends, who from art shows, went on to doing movie nights at Elsewhere, called La Nuit De Cinema. This guy Clement, he was the French guy, Clement Beauvais, he made some great student flicks, like music clips for bands another sort of funny piss take movie and a semi serious western, a modern western with a twist, and then he moved to Sydney after being here and got to meet a lot of crew down there.
Anyway he just rung us up, ‘cos I was doing various roles in his films, along with Jaimee, I was always the weird kind of dude who could do stuff and Jaimee was the sexy girl role. So we’d appeared in a couple of his clips. He had a meeting with Sneaky Sound System and he pitched the idea for UFO and he wrote the script with us in mind as characters and he rang us and said ‘this is happening man’. Jaimee and I had a meeting with him and we were like O.K. and he goes, ‘yeah so I think we’re filming next weekend’ I was like ‘are you serious?!’“ We shot the whole thing in a weekend. The pool scene was on a Thursday, Elsewhere was on a Friday in the nightclub, but I did a previous shooting on the Wednesday night at the pool, all the underwater stuff, I nearly died doing that. It was full on, they had me diving and swimming in the pink hotpants and telling me to ‘go deeper, go deeper’ and they had lights underwater as well as speakers underwater, I could hear Clement interact with the diver in the space suit and I did a bunch of CK stuff underwater, dancing underwater, swimming and doing all the Aquaman stuff, actually they really loved it, Clement was happy. So we got that then we did the motel and then the nightclub scene with everyone, a whole day with Sneaky. It was really good, a great learning experience and a good networking, friends sort of thing.”
There’s not a whole lot more I can fit in here without making an actual book on Claudio, but the next chapter for CK is his music. He’s teamed up with his lady Jaimee who sings and plays keys with CK on bass and programming to form the outfit ‘Savant’. Together they do all the writing, instruments, arranging and performing with Jaimee bringing a solid lyrical stable to the picture. “It’s got a lot of influences, something we’ve always shared is a passion for music, so to pin it down to one certain style is difficult… I’d call it sophisticated pop”. Look out for their upcoming album and shows.
I guess right now you’re probably asking, how the hell could anyone do so much? Well advice from CK’s mouth is definitely something to take in. “Live for now and make sure everything for now is in it all the right places with a dose of spontaneity, because it won’t go forward otherwise”. It’s an on going thing with your building blocks not dwelling too much from the past but taking inspiration from it and moving forward. Also you should really slow down and enjoy life, it’s there to be enjoyed, but that’s not to say we shouldn’t have advancement and move forward, just ‘wake up and slow down’…yeah…’wake up and slow down’.