Jeff Gillette and “Dismayland” Emerge from Nuart Debris

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For the ninth straight year, BSA brings Nuart to our readers – artists, academics, collectors, instructors, curators, fanboys /girls, photographers, organizers, all. Not sure who else has been covering this international Street-Art themed indoor/outdoor festival and forum as early and continuously as we have, but we’re happy to say that this Norwegian pocket of public art continues to hold its own among a suddenly bloated field of new festivals and events globally.

Today we have some process shots of artist Jeff Gillette in preparation for his exhibition at Nuart’s big opening this Saturday at Tou Scene. Tonight his solo show “Dismayland” opens at the inauguration of Nuart Galllery and Project Space with a very special presentation.

“Dismayland” sounds very similar to a magical kingdom that generations of kids grew up dreaming to visit in Orange County, California, where artist Jeff Gillette lives. For Street Art fans it also sounds very similar to the smaller version of that theme park lampooning it called “Dismaland” by the artist Banksy and 50 of his friends last September in Somerset, England. What many don’t realize is that “Dismayland” is the name a show that predates Banksy’s by five years.

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Jeff Gillette, Minsky. NUART 2016. Stavanger, Norway. September 2016. (photo © Tor Ståle Moen)

Born partially of his own disappointment at not being able to go to meet Mickey and Minnie as a kid, Gillette created canvasses, sculptures, installations of slums with the pristine blue sky and cavorting characters in animations most closely associated with his childhood memories. Drawing attention to the disparity of wealth and quality of life that exists in the world with millions living in desperate conditions, Gillette also acknowledges that the $99 dollar one-day ticket to Disneyland is an insulting reminder to many that their chances to experience that magic are very slim.

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Jeff Gillette at work on his installation for NUART 2016 Tou Scene indoors exhibition. Stavanger, Norway. September 2016. (photo © Tor Ståle Moen)

BSA: You have been subverting Disney for years and roiling Mickey fans with dystopian and humorous scenes of human settlement that lay bare the rotten state of our folly. Is this installation a redux or continuation of your “Dismayland” – a furtherance of the themes you originally touched on in 2010?

Jeff Gillette: I started my theme of messing with Disney as soon as I moved to Southern California in the early 1990s culminating wth my “Dismayland” show at Copro Gallery in LA. After my involvement with Banksy’s Dismaland, Copro invited me to create the archway of the alternative art aisle at the Los Angeles Art Show. A construction contractor and I created a huge facade of the Disneyland Castle Logo from distressed wood I gathered out in the Mojave Desert.

My invitation to NUART gave me another opportunity to create a Disney Castle, this time from diagrams I found on the Internet. My sculptor wife, Laurie Hassold, and two volunteers built the facade and picked up trash all over the town of Stavenger to create a landfill that it sits on. My future aspiration is to build a life-like Disneyland Castle in a slum. In Indian slums during festivals, it is common for the residents to construct colorful, fantastical, temporary temples that look like castles in their neighborhoods. I’m working with a few artists in India to hopefully realize this project. I’d like to also flood a slum with toy Mickey Mouse dolls, for all the kids to have and play with. It would make for some quite surreal images.

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Jeff Gillette at work on his installation for NUART 2016 Tou Scene indoors exhibition. Stavanger, Norway. September 2016. (photo © Tor Ståle Moen)

BSA: Who is Minsky? How did he get that name?
Jeff Gillette: When creating work for Dismaland, at some point Banksy said ‘ no Mickey Mouses.’ I had to obliterate Mickey, my favorite icon, from some of my paintings ( although in most of them I hid a Mickey elsewhere in the details). I thought up Minksy then and played around with sketches combining Banksy’s Rat with the features of Mickey. The name is a contraction of “Mickey” and “Banksy.”

Before leaving for The UK, I printed a bunch of stickers and placed one in each of the dozen or so (clean and new) porta-potties at Dismaland on the opening day. I found out the artist Nick Walker, whom I later met, thought they were Banksy’s and took one for himself! In the Dharavi Slum in Mumbai, India, I taught my guide, Hashim Abdul who lives there, to paint Minksy stencils wherever he could without getting into trouble. Now Westerners who go on the popular ‘Slum Tours’ will see these characters on some of the walls.

Here in Norway, I’ve taken advantage of Stavanger’s open policy of welcoming street art to paint some stencils of Minksy in the town. It is strange to do this activity and not have to look over your shoulder or be prepared to get accosted.

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Jeff Gillette at work on his installation for NUART 2016 Tou Scene indoors exhibition. Stavanger, Norway. September 2016. (photo © Tor Ståle Moen)

BSA: Last year Nuart featured the work of Bordalo II, who gathered local discarded junk to draw attention to our environmental impact on animal life. Your work appears to be more about the cost of meaningless consumerism to our souls. Is that right?

Jeff Gillette: That sounds good, but I like to think that my work specifically targets the commercial aspirations of Disney to be the “Happiest Place on Earth” mired in the reality of a world that screams out the exact opposite, at least on BBC and CNN. Personally, in my experiences interacting with poor people in slums, they appear surprisingly positive in their plight. What they lack in consumer comforts, they make up for in meaningful relationships with extended families and neighbor’s that the condensed living situation affords them. It still is abhorrent seeing people live in slum landfills, and my paintings try to show this.

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Jeff Gillette at work on his installation for NUART 2016 Tou Scene indoors exhibition. Stavanger, Norway. September 2016. (photo © Tor Ståle Moen)

BSA: To make something beautiful from a situation that is quite ugly – does that require a certain optimism?

Jeff Gillette: An optimism comes from the ability to be objective in experiencing the potential aesthetic quality found in ugly scenery. I travel to third world slums, visit landfills, and study visuals of natural and man-made destruction and find a strange beauty in it all. I struggle to distance myself from the actual toll on humanity and individuals by not including people in my work. The images instead become intricate fields of color and form conveying a feeling of beauty in worst-case-scenarios.

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Jeff Gillette. Process shot. NUART 2016 Tou Scene indoors exhibition. Stavanger, Norway. September 2016. (photo © Tor Ståle Moen)

 

Jeff Gillette solo show at Nuart Gallery “Dismayland Nord” opens tonight. Click HERE for further information.

 

We wish to extend our most heartfelt thank you to our friend Tor for sharing his photos with us in exclusive for this year’s coverage of NUART 2016.

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