Luka Weinberger centers trans beauty, vulnerability at 934 Gallery

In 'Restoration,' opening Friday, the artist applies a range of mediums and techniques to a series of revealing portraits that lovingly depict members of their trans community.
"Brie (They/Them)" by Luka Weinberger
"Brie (They/Them)" by Luka WeinbergerCourtesy the artist

Luka Weinberger began work on their new exhibit at 934 Gallery long before they picked up a paintbrush.

In December, Weinberger put out a call within their trans community, seeking folks who would be willing to sit and have their portraits done. The artist then put together a questionnaire, asking each person their pronouns, how and when they started to uncover their trans identity, and those times in their lives when they experienced the greatest sense of euphoria or gender alignment within themselves. 

“And everyone had such different answers,” Weinberger said in late May at 934 Gallery, where “Restoration” opens on Friday, June 2. (Weinberger is one of three artists appearing as part of the larger “My Body, My Joy” exhibit.) “I could not find any common thread between them other than they were transgender.”

So, rather than trying to force a through line into the collection, Weinberger leaned into each person’s unique story and experience, utilizing a range of materials and techniques to bring each piece to life. 

“There was a moment I realized I had to do what every artist is taught to never do, ever, which was to be incredibly not cohesive in a body of work,” they said. “It was like, okay, I can do all these styles I’ve been taught, and I’m going to do them all in one show, because this isn’t about me. And I think that’s the main thing I’ve taken away: This isn’t about my voice. It’s about their voices.”

Each of the portraits is titled with the model’s first name and pronouns, and its creation deeply informed by their story, interests and identity. For “Arlo (They/Them),” Weinberger utilized PanPastel, which they described as “archival eyeshadow,” applying the pastels to the paper with sponges and brushes to honor Arlo’s love of makeup. “Sam (They/Them)” is painted in comparatively bold colors and framed in titanium, lending the portrait literal heft because Sam is “a very proud, large, four-XL human who’s like, ‘Yeah, I have big tits and I’m nonbinary,’” Weinberger said. 

“Elliott (He/Him)” displays abstract characteristics as a means of capturing his more fluid identity. As the viewer moves left to right across the canvas, the painting becomes more aligned, reflecting “the part [Elliott] shares with the world,” Weinberger said. A self portrait of the artist (“Luka (They/Them)”) shares similarly liquid roots, crafted with watercolors and nonabsorbent paper. As the water evaporated, the pigments stayed behind on the page, creating dry beds and unpredictable streaks of dripping color.

“You really have no control over the final product, and you don’t know what it’s going to look like,” Weinberger said. “I’m kind of a control freak, and when it came to how I presented myself to the world, I used to be very cautious and not very open, not very vulnerable. But when I finally reached that point where I had no choice but to come out and be honest about who I am, it meant throwing caution to the wind. I had to follow my gut, and I had no idea what the end result was going to be. ... And I felt like it was important to take a similar approach to my self-portrait.”

"Luka (They/Them)" by Luka Weinberger
"Luka (They/Them)" by Luka WeinbergerCourtesy the artist

Elsewhere, Weinberger utilized everything from thick impasto paint (“Brie (They/She)”) to tools adapted from their day job, creating “Frankie (They/Them)” by hooking a ballpoint pen up to a tattoo machine as a way to honor the emerging sense of identity that the model began to uncover through the acts of piercing and tattooing. (Weinberger is a tattoo artist at Evolved Body Art.)

Though Weinberger embraced a range of mediums, the pieces are unified in their vulnerability, the artist creating an environment into which each person could step unguarded and then skillfully transposing that revealing snapshot to the canvas.

“And that’s what I wanted. I don’t want slogans. I don’t want pride flags. I just want them to be like, okay, we are a community, we are a movement, but we’re also individual humans with completely individual stories,” Weinberger said. “Everyone shared really personal parts of themselves with me, tearing away all of the bits they’ve been forced to wear to be a more socially acceptable human.”

The artist’s message arrives at a time when even trans existence has become politicized. Recently, a local company contracted Weinberger to create a mural and then rejected the proposal, telling the artist their inclusion of a trans body was “too political.” For Weinberger, the experience reiterated the importance of spaces such as 934 Gallery, which they described as “a safe haven for this type of visual exploration,” particularly as the trans community is increasingly targeted by social media-driven right-wing harassment campaigns and cruel political legislation.

“In public spaces, people are more and more afraid to side with trans people because … they’re afraid of demonstrations, they’re afraid of violence, they’re afraid of boycotts,” Weinberger said. “And as things get worse and worse here, I think it’s more important to have trans figures in public spaces, just to depoliticize [the community]. So whenever you get opportunities to do something like this, you have to take them. … I’m happy and hopeful this will help our side of the conversation in some way.”

"Elliott (He/Him)" by Luka Weinberger
"Elliott (He/Him)" by Luka WeinbergerCourtesy the artist

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