Critics’ Picks

Gray Wielebinski, Other Men’s Wars, 2021, ink on paper, 16 x 12".

Gray Wielebinski, Other Men’s Wars, 2021, ink on paper, 16 x 12".

London

Gray Wielebinski

Hales Gallery | London
7 Bethnal Green Road
June 25–July 31, 2021

Early-Christian symbolism meets denim-thighed Americana in “Oil and Water,” London-based American artist Gray Wielebinski’s gripping debut at Hales Gallery’s British headquarters. Spanning sculpture, screen-printing, works on paper, and textiles, the exhibition’s title nods to the exploitation of natural resources in the artist’s dual hometowns of Dallas and Los Angeles. But aside from a few indisputable references (see Pumping [all works 2021], a forty-four-inch-tall rocking horse shaped like a pump jack), this geoindustrial premise appears as an excuse to mine something deeper: the past and present myths that fuel our collective psyche.

While Wielebinski is best known for their hand-stitched, campy “Soft Sculptures,” the works in this exhibition are quietly somber. One long black wall is populated by a series of six ink-wash paintings on paper telling tales of armored demons and other biblical creatures. Mimicking a nineteenth-century illustration by British caricaturist George Cruikshank, one of them, Saint Dunstan and the Devil, depicts the Canterbury saint shoeing the devil’s hoof (the mythical scene that gave birth to the lucky horseshoe tradition and, centuries later, gay French writer Guillaume Dustan’s nom de plume.) Meanwhile, continuing the artist’s investigation into sports iconography, the opposite wall is curtained with a pair of color-printed tapestries made out of sewn-together knitted acrylic football scarves. Thick Skin features an amber-toned reptile-humanoid figure graced with a beefcake’s body and split hooves: a Linderesque collage of the Genesis serpent on steroids, if you will. If the very principle of myth as depoliticized speech is to transform history into nature, as Roland Barthes wrote in 1957, Wielebinski’s artificial mythologies appear as relentless attempts to short-circuit the semiotic order.