Extended version of a feature in Volume 4, Issue 008, available to purchase here
Gray Wielebinski’s art is pure magic. A head-spinning mash-up of mythical creatures, collages, gay porn and the occasional Pamela Anderson cameo, the artist immerses himself in myth-making, mysticism and telling compelling stories through an electrifying blend of paint, installations, textile and sculpture.
The magic of Wielebinski started in Dallas, Texas, in a predominantly Jewish community where he was born and raised. Speaking to the artist, something changes in Wielebinski’s soft voice when talking about his early years, both calm and excitable at the same time. “In some ways, it was really idyllic at the time and I did enjoy it,” the 30-year-old says. “There was a lot of space to get dirty and get in trouble – it’s like a combination between a city and being a little more suburban and rural.”
But it was in Los Angeles that shaped Wielebinski’s “formative years”. He moved there aged 18 for a “fresh start” and began exploring his identity” (Wielebinski uses he/them pronouns interchangeably). For around seven years, he found his footing in art, immersed in the city’s underground scenes and finding an experimental voice amongst the artists Wielebinski was surrounded by. Then, at 25, he moved again, this time to London to study for an MA at the prestigious Slade School of Fine Art. He has now called the capital home for five years. What did he learn with each move?
“I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately,” he says. “It’s not for everyone, and it’s a huge privilege and luxury that I’ve been able to do it, but to have this cocoon [in a new place where I can] go and change, reflect and freely be myself without the relationship to other people’s perceptions, is so freeing.” As a trans-masculine person, Wielebinski has been on a life-long journey of self-love and acceptance, having recently undergone top surgery.
“I mean, it’s also difficult to keep starting over in a new city,” he says, laughing. “But I think I needed to go away, be alone with myself and figure things out and be more independent.”
Now at their most content, Wielebinski has been producing piece after piece, exhibition after exhibition, often working with independent galleries all over the city. His work is underpinned by myth-making and the power dynamics within it. Coming from the States, the artist often thinks about how the media in his home country is embedded in extensive, often over-blown narratives (like the dramatic anchors on Fox News) in order to maintain power structures.
“That’s something I’m interested in, storytelling and how that’s done. I think I explore a lot of different themes, and I’m trying to experiment and not be too pigeonholed,” he says. “But I’m interested in costume, spectacle and gender, specifically masculinity.”
Wielebinski often effortlessly rips the shit out of gender constructs in their playful tone. Whether it’s reposting dry, witty memes on people’s ignorance of pronouns via Instagram, or superimposing hyper-masc, pin-up bodies with vampire heads in collages, the artist plays with the stereotypes and judgement he faces and flips them on their head. It’s innately political, although you don’t need to tell him that.
“I think everyone’s work is political,” he says. “Even if one thinks they’re making political work or not, that is a statement in itself by choosing not to be discussing something,” he says. “There’s a sense of privilege for people who decide not to make ‘political work’ – that’s often a label projected onto certain people and identities. From a young age, I realised that would happen to me, not being a cishet white man.”
For Wielebinski, this year has proven to be the most reflective. Having turned 30 a few months ago, he’s been thinking about everything he was able to accomplish before hitting the big 3 – 0. As for the future? “I really, truly am not sure where I’ll be in five years,” he says, smiling. “But I know that I want to be surrounded by people I love, I want to still be making work, and I want to still be figuring out who I am and how I feel best. Who knows?!”
Whatever the case, it’ll be magic.