by Mitch Gillette
The first movie I ever saw in the absence of my parents was Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. I'm not sure why it was that film in particular. If my Mom and Dad had known what The Birds was about, they never would have let me go. I went with my best friend Michelle and her older brother Kevin, who was high school age, and I guess my folks thought I was in good hands.
Today The Birds is probably my favorite movie. Not only because it's a blast, but because of what it's made up of. When I watch it I see a wonderful controlled subversion of what we consider "natural in nature." And I see a handsome self-consciousness, the extreme opposite of cinema verite, a vision that is planned and bent and prodded into a final work.
In a way these two elements constitute the main ingredients to my work. When I was even younger (pre-Birds), I was seriously addicted to Superman comic books. I was forever copying my favorite covers and pages over and over again. My Uncle Linwood, himself a cartoonist (or so he claimed, though I don't remember ever seeing a single cartoon), loaned me a two volume cartooning course, thinking I might follow in his footsteps. Surprisingly, the books were almost entirely about anatomy. I soon discovered that it wasn't the stories that drew me to Superman, but rather Superman and Lois Lane's bumps and curves.
The body is the center of my stuff. Even when I make a picture with no body in it, there is still some sort of reference to the human form. I can't seem to get enough of the nude figure--male, female, I love it all. Other figure painters dread the hard parts, like the hands and feet. Not me. Let me at them.
At some point in the progression of my work, the figure became a symbol. Fresh from dropping out of art school, I drew and painted from models until the boredom overtook me a few months later. I started to draw the human body from my head using memories of Uncle Linwood's books. The new figures became stretched and distorted as I unconsciously relied more on my instincts and the nature of my own gesture. I began to forget to remember what real anatomy looks like. The less I concentrated on reality, the less my figures seemed to be about the figure itself and more about a kind of commentary on the figure. And I guess I would just unconsciously dump stuff from my head into whatever I was working on. None of this was really on purpose; meaning is always furthest from my mind when I'm composing a picture.
So in a sense, like Hitchcock, I found myself subverting nature. But unlike Mr. Hitchcock, whose psycho-sexual concerns were veiled and revealed themselves only through suggestion, sexuality became a major theme in my work. It became my calling card.
That self-conscious quality I see when I watch The Birds also plays a big part in what I do. Some would call it post-modern--the reusing or funneling of older styles and conceits for new purposes. The basis of my style has it's origins in classical painting, but my conceptual concerns are far from anachronistic. I am in fact subverting tradition for effect (yes, more subversion).
This mix of subverted traditions and subverted bodies makes for some fairly vulgar imagery. Lushly, wonderfully vulgar, I hope. Some people are put off by this, and I don't blame them. My work has never been for the faint of heart or the hopelessly tasteful. But this is what I do.