Gray Wielebinski is a queer Los Angeles based mixed media artist, collage enthusiast, sound mixer, cultural commentator. She welcomed us to her small, but charming East Los Angeles studio, where she has converted her garage into a cluttered studio space filled with books, prints, and a diverse array of manipulated magazine clippings of bodies, faces, phalluses, breasts, and pizza scattered all along the walls. It felt as if we had entered in a real life version of one her paintings. She spoke with us about the evolution of her art, identity, perspective, and process.
Gray is an interesting name, where does that come from?
I was a very big tomboy growing up for a very long time, and the name Grace was so girly. I hated it. I remember, one Thanksgiving dinner, I had an official meeting with my parents and broke the news I was changing my name to Gray. I thought it was going to be this huge thing, and my parents were just like, “Okay, whatever you want Gray.” And that was the end of it.
So, today, Gray or Grace?
When you know yourself entirely those seem interchangeable to me, but from an outside perspective I identify more with being called Gray. I like the idea that it is less gendered.
It is not necessarily one or the other or, that by going back to being called Gray that I am back to my true “boyish” self. I have switched between Gray and Grace, and both masculine and feminine stages of my life were valid experiences and part of me too, and it is finding the balance of gender performance and representation that I am comfortable with. Now, I am trying to get in touch with what makes me comfortable and how I want to present myself.
What were some of those early experiences of this gender performance?
I’m really interested in how we have been shaped and formed as individuals through our experiences and structures. Most of my friends were tomboys and athletic growing up and we were just being kids playing around. I wasn’t aware that it was abnormal, I was just being myself. When I go back, I am super grateful for my family unit because I was just being ‘me’ pretty hard and my parents never made it seem weird — except for the occasional, “Were going to church. Put a dress on.” Other than that, my mom would let me dress as the Wolverine to the grocery store. The older I got though, the internal and external pressures came up where I was being pushed into a feminine role. I didn’t necessarily feel that I was physically being forced into this feminine role, but it was one of those things that came in large waves of being told it’s not right and weird.
Was gender something you felt uncomfortable with? Or realized that your gender/sexuality was not aligned with societal expectations?
Yeah, definitely. That still happens too a lot. It comes in this conscious and subconscious wave of discomfort. For example, not wanting to get super dressed up to go out because I did not identify enough with that side of my femininity. It felt like I wasn’t being myself. But, the moment I realized that I didn’t have to feel that way was a super empowering feeling.
You touch on so many different mediums in your work. Tell us about your creative process?
I do drawing, illustration, collage, mixed media, which I consider painting, I also paint, and do experimental video and animation work, and sound and installation.
Exploring specific mediums is super important in my process especially when choosing between a lot of different mediums. Like with my video art for example, I really wanted to explore it, and I had an idea in my head of what I wanted to do, but there were all these steps in between where I just had to play around with doing, making, and figuring it out as I went, and just seeing how it all works out. Maybe I make a video and none of the pictures turn out right so I “wasted an entire day” but I was actually learning so much from that whole process.
With art it’s all about the practice, like yoga and the gym, and finding a way to make it sustainable through my life. Instead of setting strict deadlines for my career, it’s more like how can I incorporate this in my life and continue to learn and change. Trying to find my voice and aesthetic that is uniquely me, but at the same time not having that nail you to the wall and being able to change and shift and experiment and giving yourself room to mess up and hate your work but still be happy with it in it own way.
As I have evolved as an artist, my work maintains some aspects of similar threads and builds on itself. For example, I had been working with collage for a very long time, and instead of just abandoning it, I thought more in line with where can I go next with this, and how can this organically grow into something else. That is where video art came in to play.
Where does your inspiration for the content of your work come from? / What are you inspired by?
It’ll come from different artists, vintage magazines, and books, or maybe even just a shitty postcard at a 99 cent store. Or maybe its just an idea or concept, or I am frustrated about something I want to get off my chest. I like the idea of playing with high and low brow art and the idea of junk or kitsch, or what’s elevated objects and mixing all of those together and playing with our concepts of what is art or design, or garbage and cheap, and why we think that and why we are attached to all these different meanings. I like exploring the weird space and other worldliness I can create by putting a lot of different things together.
Speaking of putting a lot of different things together, there are a lot of disembodied, Frankenstein like subjects in your work. What does this stem from?
This is really important to me. When I am mixing a lot of identities across the spectrum of gender & race, there’s a lot of meaning that comes with me as a white woman cutting up bodies and creating these powerful Frankenstein like figures. But it is important for me while doing this to remain aware of my positionality because it is a delicate subject matter, because it does have different meanings depending on whose voice is doing it, and to remain conscious of the histories behind what it means to do these things. Mixing together different genders allows me to enter into this trans/cyborg utopic vision and push beyond the idea of the male and female, “normal” human body. These do become something else that are not just humans, but at the same time extremely human. And being able to identify with that. I have a deep connection to the idea of gender dysphoria and not identifying completely with the way my body is read, but I am deeply connected to my body that comes with me throughout my entire life. I am a product of my body and treated in certain ways because of it. The human experience is this thing that people can always identify with moments of being misread. I am very interested in bodies and the context and histories that are thrown on them.
It also touches on the idea of intersectional feminism where so much power comes from making room for a whole bunch of different voices and experiences. Rather than this idea of these are the tenants of feminism where people are going to experience them in the same way. My stuff explores gender, sexuality, and race but that always needs to come back to my own personal lens and not speak for other people.
Lights Out artwork by Gray Wielebinski
What is your own lens and how do you identify yourself?
I don’t really know where I am with it my identity yet, but this work and this project was this way for me to work through all of this. A big part of my art is this idea of asking questions and playing with these ideas more than putting a pressure on myself of trying to figure out a concrete way of identifying. Instead, shifting through all these ideas and expressing them in a way that is productive for myself and hopefully for others as well. However, I am curious and want to keep checking in with myself in where I am in this moment and be careful to not just brush it away.
I do deeply identify with being a woman, not in a physical sense, but more in a socially constructed way. And in a way I am grateful that those constructs have allowed me to connect more with woman on a sexual and platonic level than I can with men. It has allowed me to be more openly emotional and more in touch with my emotions and connect to others on a more personal level. But at the same time because of social constructs these cyborg identities help take us out of this binary way of looking at sexuality and gender.
There’s something really powerful in its weirdness of not having to conform to a fully masculine or feminine identity. I know that things will probably still change and be fluid for me, but I’m becoming more comfortable with who I am. It’s not about getting to one point and then you’re complete and done, because the whole time you are who you really are. And no matter where you are on the queer spectrum you are all fully human at every point. So again, Gray or Grace? I’m not in a huge hurry to figure it out, because I am still me at every part of the process.
My art is a way to express my sexuality and body presentation. I’m working through these things, and for me it’s a cathartic and interesting learning process. I kind of forgot that every other person is bringing their own experience and lens to my art, because they weren’t there when I was making it. Some of my work is really intense. It’s really important for me to give as much intention from where I’m coming from, especially with really sensitive subject matter but I need to realize that people are going to take it however they want. I have had some reactions. When I showed my video for my final thesis project, my 80-year-old grandma was there who is very conservative very sweet and loves me very much, but we butt heads on a lot of things. I’ve come out to family members through my art on accident a lot of times. I had a show in Dallas and they read my bio plaque and were like, oh I guess Grace is gay, alright. But when I showed the video, it’s a very jarring video, and it’s also intense subject matter, and my grandma had this moment where she had to leave halfway through and get some air. You could she wanted to be supportive, but it made me realize not everyone needs to love it or get it on that level.
What does it mean to you to be a human being today?
Focusing on what makes me happy and what fulfills me on a day to day level. For me, that’s personal relationships and trying to be a considerate daughter, neighbor, ect., and go out of your way to connect with someone. Trying to keep learning and questioning things from other people, and be appreciate and gracious if someone is allowing you to hear their story and their perspective, and also sharing yourself with other people and not being super protective or fearful of putting yourself out there. Be open that people might teach you something about your perspective that you didn’t see.
What are your dreams and goals?
I want to keep growing as a person and artist. I don’t have a 5 or 10 year plan, but trying to find that sustainability in being able to make art for as long as I can. I have lofty delusional goals that every artist has, but I do think that what is most important is being flexible and open to whatever route that may be.
Own that youness in whatever that is, instead of trying to have this idea of what you’re supposed to be or what construct you should fit into. Know that you are fully formed right now whatever that may be, and that is what you’re bringing to the table. That right there is irreplaceable. It’s the cheesy stuff, but the older you get the cheesy stuff just clicks. So just be gentle and patient with youself. You don’t have to figure everything out right now. Find people you can talk about it and talk to yourself about it.
To view more of her work go to graywielebinski.com.