BY Ari Karpel
August 11 2011 9:15 PM ET
With work in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum as well as a Guggenheim fellowship, a Jerome Foundation fellowship, and a Creative Capital grant to his credit, perhaps it’s time for the one-of-a-kind artist’s self-esteem to catch up with his success. “I’m always trying to figure out how to love myself more,” Linzy admits.
He and his unlikely pal Franco have been collaborating on an amorphous set of projects, culminating, for now, in a much-heralded new EP of songs, titled Turn It Up. “I was surprised that so many people responded…the way they did,” Linzy says. “I thought it was going to be this underground thing, and I was seeing [it announced] across the bottom of the TV screen. I wanted to shoot myself.”
The end result isn’t at all what the two had envisioned. Conceived as a full-length album on which Franco would sing extensively on songs written by the duo, the record instead features the Hollywood actor’s spoken-word recitations and some snippets of his singing, which Linzy snuck in from samples Franco sent him. The star’s busy schedule made for a piecemeal collaboration, but he shot video to accompany a few of the songs, including the playfully trippy “Rising (Both Sides Now),” the first release from Kalup and Franco.
“He contributed more than he thinks he contributed to it,” says Linzy. “It’s a full-on role, but since it was done over a long period of time, and in many pieces, in his mind it’s probably like…” Linzy’s words trail off, but his facial expressions say the rest — that Franco would dismiss his own role in the project as minimal.
For a conceptual artist, Linzy doesn’t always seem adept at articulating his own concepts; he frequently leaves his sentences unfinished. Sitting with the 34-year-old in a café in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights, the recently gentrified area where he lives, you get the sense that Linzy’s brain waves fire too quickly for him to form complete sentences. Halting phrases are dotted with expressions such as “like” and “you know” as well as leaps to entirely different thoughts. But when he talks about freedom, Linzy becomes downright eloquent.
“I want to explore and work in a space and do stuff that will inspire freedom. Not just freedom in terms of laws, but freedom, I guess, within myself,” he says. “Freedom is an interesting thing, like, freedom to be alone, freedom to be in the types of relationships you want to be in, freedom to express yourself, freedom from fear. I don’t always like being gay, and I don’t always like other gay people. People might not want to hear that, but it’s my truth. There are things I’ve been taught to hate. Do you find freedom in being more flamboyant? Do you find freedom in not communicating, going off into your own hole, and not being bothered?”
These are the thoughts that drove him to become an artist, but Linzy didn’t know what being an artist meant while growing up in Stuckey, Fla. He was raised by his grandmother after his parents split up. He spent weekends and summers with his father, a farmer who was often off with migrant workers, picking apples up north. When Linzy was 12, his father had a stroke that left him paralyzed on one side of his body. Linzy’s mother, he says, suffers from mental health problems and drug abuse, and she has been in and out of treatment facilities. Though his mother wasn’t always in his life, an insurance agent came to his door when he was preparing to graduate high school to inform him that his mother had taken out a life insurance policy when he was a young boy. When his mother became incapacitated, Linzy qualified to receive $1,000, which helped him foot the bill for University of South Florida.