The Bear World is filled with so many amazing artists across all mediums and modalities and it has been our privilege to interface with these gifted people and showcase their artwork to you. Today we highlight the artwork of Woolybearz who we met at the vendor market of Provincetown Bear Week.
Featuring bear-themed illustrations in vibrant colors and compositions, Woolybearz takes a playful look at the hypermasculine stereotype of bears. Check out our discussion with the artist below and be sure to catch him vending at FlameCon NYC and Spooky Bear in Provincetown later this year. You can also check out more of his work and buy some of it at woolybearz.com.
BWM: Tell us a bit about your background, who you are, where you’re from, how you started creating art?
Woolybearz: My name is Joe Klockowski and I create queer illustrations under the name Woolybearz. I’m an artist and graphic designer based in the upstate NY / Albany area. I’ve been creating art for as long as I can remember, mainly painting. I started creating art digitally in college, which led me to creating my bear themed illustration work.
BWM: What is it about bears that makes you want to incorporate them into your art?
Woolybearz: I’ve always been drawn to the bear community over any other gay scene; however I’ve always felt a disconnect given that I am not physically a bear-type guy. I started creating bear-oriented artwork in 2016 as a means for me to connect with the bear community. I lovingly poke fun at the community and any tough guy seriousness. My work is all about taking a big, hulking man and drawing him into a delicate or precarious position and often in a more quiet and somber light. I enjoy that contrast. I try to portray queer intimacy and gay bear art in a way alternative to the hypersexual ‘Tom of Finland-esk’ trope. In some ways, drawing bears became a bit of a cathartic way for me to explore my own feelings of alienation, but I think everyone can connect with that feeling.
BWM: What initially drew you into the bear community? And what keeps you there?
Woolybearz: Superficially, straight up attraction drew me to the bear community. I definitely have a type and it is spelled B-E-A-R (or dad). But as I meet more people in the community, especially through Woolybearz which has become an incredible social buffer, I really enjoy the overall friendliness and openness. When I attend bear specific events, I find a lot of people that really take me in, support me and make me feel welcome. I think in general the bear community is unusually approachable and laid back. A bunch of friendly furry weirdos.
BWM: Are you professionally trained or self-taught? Tell us about that.
Woolybearz: I’d say a bit of both, I have a degree in Studio Art with a concentration in Digital Art and Graphic Design, but I think all art making is just a big process of trial and error. I currently work full time as a graphic designer, so I am very comfortable in the digital art world, which is where most of Woolybearz is created. I also paint, primarily in oil. I’m a certified ‘queer nature boy’ so I’m very drawn to painting landscapes and even dabble in plein air painting on my solo hikes using an empty Altoid tin as my lightweight portable palette.
BWM: Who are some of your artistic inspirations?
Woolybearz: There’s a pretty big slew of us bear-themed and queer artists out there. I’m not going to list them all but they are all great and very inspiring to my work. Here are a few specific artists that I’m currently inspired by: Jeffrey Cheung, Horno, Jian Giannini, Ryan Travis Christian, Gao Hang, Kyle Dunn, Derek Abella, Scott Csoke, Shir Pakman, Kevin Sabo, Studio Bara.
BWM: What big projects are you working on? What is coming next?
Woolybearz: I have several ideas and new illustrations I’ve been exploring for a while now. Overall, I’d really like to get into making comic / zine content that’s more “sequential art” oriented. One very lofty idea is to translate some of my illustrations into 3D figurines, particularly the ‘Cairn’ illustrations and make them physical balancing sculptures almost like a stacking game. I’ve also been exploring airbrush paintings of bear figures and would love to translate those to large format paintings… like “5ft tall canvas” big.
See more work from Woolybearz and/or buy some on his official website HERE.