While Gillette’s work was included as part of the first-of-its-kind bemusement park, the installations all shared a common theme that echoed the artist’s signature subversion of Disney and its characters.
Featuring 15 paintings, Gillette’s latest body of work is a continuation of the post-apocalyptic scenes he’s been creating for over 20 years. This time, however, Gillette turns the tables on Banksy, with many scenes in his new work inspired by Dismaland.
Dismaland Calais is based on Banksy’s digital realization of the Dismaland Castle, reimagined within the Calais refugee camp. In the painting Gillette adds his own surprises, Dismaland detritus scattered about amongst the ramshackle tents, tear gas canisters rolling in the background, and the occasional Dismaland employee wandering in the ‘jungle camp’.
The castle’s entryway is emblazoned with the initial ‘B’ instead of ‘D’ and is surrounded by an infestation of Banksy’s ‘Minnie-Rats’. The 36x48” acrylic and collage piece by Gillette surrounds the castle with tents and shacks synonymous with the artist’s slum paintings.
Other works show a huge landfill with a broken down London Eye, London in need of ‘Dismal-Aid’, Mickey Mouse living in a slum and Minnie Mouse on a billboard hovering over a post-nuclear Hiroshima wasteland.
Gillette’s long-standing favour of juxtaposing Disney images with slums and scenes of despair and ruin came during a period of soul searching. He explains:
“In my late twenties I ended up joining the Peace Corps in Nepal. I was there for two years in an isolated environment where I had too much time to read heavy books and think.
“I discovered the views of the ultimate pessimist: German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, and found solace in his ideas about suffering and art. From here the idea of taking the things people love and imposing the worst case scenario was born. My work is basically the visual soundtrack to his ideas with an injection of humour.”
Gillette’s work contains a journalistic element as he has visited many of the landscapes he paints. “I like the idea of truly experiencing what I’m painting – I think it’s important and comes across in the work. When I visit third-world slums and landfills I take lots of photographs and videos, painting from them in my garage studio in Orange County within earshot of the nightly Disneyland firework shows. Traipsing around in these environments can be challenging – when I visited a landfill site in Delhi the smell was so bad I couldn’t eat for days afterwards, and I often come home with some kind of ailment or another.”
Many of the ‘slumscape’ paintings in Post Dismal are a product of Jeff visiting his favorite destination, Mumbai India. There the insurmountable gap between the rich and the poor is the most prominent of anywhere in the world. In the piece ‘Transition’, Jeff highlights the absurdity of this situation in today’s world by juxtaposing a Dismaland worker relieving himself onto priceless works of art. A Pollock painting and Rauschenberg’s ‘Monogram’ are pictured as building materials on the roofs of the shanties in Dharavi, India’s largest slum.
Gillette confesses: “I used to say in my artist statements that ‘I’ve never been to Disneyland, but I’ve been to Calcutta India, 20 times.’ Now I can’t say that, since my wife and her nine-year-old niece dragged me there years ago, kicking and screaming. Since then I’ve been back once, just recently, to take pictures for this show. I much prefer Dismaland.”