Jeff Gillette likes to go slumming in our planet’s most congested sites of improvisational housing, and then he returns back home to paint them. His studio is in Orange County, California, home of Disneyland, as well as some of the wealthiest suburbs in America. So it’s no surprise that he sees slums as theme parks of depravation, occasionally enhanced with some cartoonish relics of Mickey Mouse. All of this sounds rather depressing, but actually these paintings feel upbeat, perhaps in response to the irrepressible, universal human ability to adapt to adverse circumstances, and we might recall that many first-generation Americans lived in shacks or tenements.
Gillette doesn’t show us how it feels to live in these places. Rather, they set a hyper-real stage for some kind of fantasy, with dramatic gestures provided by the haphazard protrusions of colorful, recycled materials. In other words, he’s telling a story, but unlike animated cartoons or the Social-Realist depiction of hovels, no cast of colorful characters has been provided. The over-crowded neighborhoods are as desolate as early Sunday morning, leaving the viewer to meditate in isolation. But what is there to meditate about? These pieces have the entrepreneurial energy of well-made storyboards, but not the beauty of well-made paintings, and there is no story, except perhaps for those who live in the cultural shadow of Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm. (Chris Miller)
Through August 18 at Bert Green Fine Art, 8 South Michigan, Suite 1220.