Michael Gittes:
Historical Fiction

by Melissa Goldstein

Seeing Michael Gittes' Rorschach-indebted paintings is akin to the first time you witness someone get sawed in-half at a magic show. You need to know how it's done. So we made a beeline to the artist's West Hollywood studio, to get the lowdown on his unusual method--painting with syringes--and to preview his Civil War-themed masterpieces, which make their public debut on May 8th at New York's Park Avenue Armory. Titled "Moments in the Bellum," the one-day-only show engages the period in moments monumental and imagined; including a borderline biblical scene of soldiers sharing a rainbow jar of jelly beans. The artist's muse, American History, is a lifelong love: he majored in the subject as an undergraduate at Wesleyan. "I studied what I paint as opposed to how I paint it,"  he says. We sat down with the groundbreaker, whose work is available on Tappan Collective, to get the nitty-gritty on his innovative approach.

First things first: how did you land on a syringe as your tool of choice? My rule was no brushes. There was like, six months of spoons and knives, and at some point I thought of syringes. I've been trying to remember at what point, but I just can't. What I do remember is telling everyone. Even before I could get my hands on one, I'd go to dinner with people and say: Syringe! I'm going to fill a syringe with paint.

Explain your process in layman's terms. I always start from an image, whether it's a photograph I took, or something I found on the Internet. Then I take measurements of its proportions and map its mirror image. Then I'll fill my syringe, trace my own drawing, and press it onto paper, almost like a really dirty silk-screen.

We've noticed that your latest works use colour sparingly--any reason why? What I don't like about colour is that it basically tells you what's what. This is grass, this is the sky, those are pants. So if you take the colour out, I like that it makes the viewer find things that I didn't necessarily put in there.

We have to ask. As far as the art world goes, which is better: LA or NY? I don't even like to argue. I just say New York is better. Like, just shut up, you guys win. But I still prefer Los Angeles.

How do you measure success? My goal is to have other artists leave my show upset at what they have just seen. Because if they leave with a smile on their face, then they're like, 'this kid's got nothing.'


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