Trevor Wheatley has a way of turning language on its head. His recent public pieces—gigantic typography installations that poke fun at popular culture—have earned him a devoted Instagram following, attention from bigtime design magazines, corporate partnerships with brands like Stussy, and high-profile commissions (including a super-secret piece for the first WAYHOME festival outside of Toronto, Ontario). It proves the young multimedia artist is making work that speaks to people—both literally and figuratively.
As a young kid, Wheatley gravitated toward graffiti. Though it was mainly because of how accessible it was, the hobby got him into art school, where his focus shifted to studio work. According to Wheatley, he fits the typical cliché of graff-kid-turned-studio-artist. But unlike some of his peers, he still embraces his graffiti roots: “A lot of graffiti writers who now make studio work don’t acknowledge their past. They think that narrative is something that will bring them down,” he told us. Now, he spends most of his time in an industrial building in downtown Toronto that he shares with his collaborator Cosmo Dean, working on public commissions and contemporary work for galleries. “It’s a 3,000-square-foot dungeon, and I love it.”
His recent personal projects—sculptures that read things like SQUAD, BLESS, DIME and FRESH—are a cheeky ode to pop culture and our Urban Dictionary era. In addition to being visually stunning and intricate, there’s still a sense of playful contrast: “The pieces juxtapose the urban with the natural through a physical realization of slang, trend and the re-contextualization of popular language. I generally have some sense of how the piece will react to the location.” For instance, carving FRESH out of ice on a beach was an obvious way to access various levels of meaning. Others, like BLESS suspended over waterfall or SQUAD hanging among fall leaves, were left to the observer to ponder. Interestingly, how the installations decompose is almost of equal importance to Wheatley. “It’s been fascinating to see how the materials age and degrade and become part of the landscape over time.” Wheatley is quick to note that he only leaves behind materials that won’t harm the environment—he’s had an intense respect for nature ever since spending childhood summers at a camp near Sudbury.
Despite a strong Instagram presence, Wheatley is cautious about social media—especially the pressure to cater to your fans. “I know what kind of work will be received well on social media, so I try not to let that affect what I do too much.” It’s not surprising then, that he and his partner Cosmo Dean are planning to venture in a completely different direction for an upcoming show this fall—“it won’t be text-based,” he reveals. But blazing new trails comes naturally to the artist, and his fearless attitude keeps fans excited for whatever’s coming next: “As Cosmo and I like to say whenever we agree on an idea: ‘let’s get it.’”