We had the good fortune of connecting with John Waiblinger and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi John, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
Risk taking has been a huge part of my life and career(s), sometimes for the good, and other times with very disasterous results. I would say, for me, the most important aspect to consider in taking risks is the motivation involved, and a measured perspective on what one is trying to accomplish. As a gay man coming of age in the late 1960s and early 70s, the biggest risk I’ve had to consider are the consequences of being openly myself, and figuring out what exactly that meant to me. I struggled continually with openly expressing the joy of being my Queer, creative self, while at the same time having a huge amount of internalized shame about who I was. This contradiction led to a long term struggle with how I most desired to express myself. Being an extrovert, this was never a silent internal contradiction but one I struggled with loudly much of my life. My risk taking had a tendency towards the extreme. I spent the first decades of my life deeply focused on creating a career for myself and achieving much success in that arena, but in retrospect I did not achieve a wholeness of self. This struggle for success, recognition, achievement, awards, etc. ultimately felt empty and did not satisfy me or eliminate the deep shame I felt about my issues around “masculinity” and romance. In my dissatisfaction, I threw myself deep into addiction. Addiction served the purpose of avoiding the need for me to really look closely at myself and figure out what I really wanted. This is the reason I stated that knowing the motivation behind one’s risk taking is extremely important. I wasted more than a decade deep in that space of “escape” and ridiculous risks, avoiding myself and any sense of making a contribution to life. In my view, the biggest risk I ever took was making the decision that I did not want to live that way any longer and that I wanted to change. Getting “clean” was extremely difficult, and I made a number of false starts. I took big risks in allowing myself to participate in “recovery” and being honest about my fears and shame. The biggest challenge of all was to determine “who” I wanted to publicly be. I decided I wanted to explore my creative desires and abilities. I took the risk of figuring out how I could make art and portray my queer desires and articulate my perspectives on “the beauty of men”. I moved away from the aching desire to have a romantic relationship and instead used my art to explore and articulate my feelings about those things without shame. I’m a Queer Artist and that self definition has been a most healing thing. Taking meaningful risks has been incredibly wonderful for me. I’ve been successful, and that’s not measured exclusively by outward success, but more importantly by my inner sense of satisfaction and the sense that I am fully expressing myself. So now my risks are motivated by a measured perspective about how I want to contribute something meaningful to my community.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
In my art I explore the mystery of why I find some men so beautiful and so intriguing. I use found images from the Internet’s vast store of gay pornography, and combine them with my own photographs to articulate a relationship with those men. I consider the work Post Photography in that I am “making” a new photograph that is specific to my internal point of view. The work presents the men I’ve appropriated via their pornographic performance and reconstructs them within the realm of my imagination. I manipulate these images to portray a masculinity that celebrates softness and a different type of edge, creating a tension between the normative and the transgressive. Pornography tends to objectify whereas I prefer to romanticize. My intent is to investigate and illustrate how such juxtaposition can broaden perceptions and understandings of masculinity. What I’ve learned is that beauty is universal and that my work is for all audiences. I’ve been delighted to have shown my work in numerous environments and that one of my greatest joys has been discussing the work with heterosexual men and discussing the desire and need for us to be able to connect with each other in meaningful ways. Those conversations have done much to relieve the internalized shame I’ve unnecessarily carried around with me.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Oh my, there are so many wonderful things to see in Los Angeles! Here are a few of my must dos that I’d like to share with a non-local friend: The Getty Center, the Culver City arts district, The Griffith Observatory, a drive down to the ocean via Sunset Blvd to the Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu and Zuma Beach, Downtown LA with a first stop at the Central Library and then exploration of the downtown gallery scene, and then visits to all the great restaurants in each area. And, oh my, so much more!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I want to give a huge Shoutout to Kristine Schomaker and to Shoebox Projects – https://shoeboxpr.com for helping me discover and integrate within the Los Angeles Art community. Kristine’s encouragement and support and the Shoebox community she has created did wonders in helping me feel confident in my direction, abilities, and legitimacy as an artist. I’d also wish to express my gratitude to David Russo, who became my first “collector” and who owns a number of my works. I appreciate his encouragement and his perspective on what I do. And finally to so many artists I’ve become friends with and whose encouragement has been wonderful. I will especially mention my 2 fellow “culture vultures”, Sean Yang and Dee Weingarden who have joined me for numerous art openings and projects!