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 color sparingly--any reason why? What I don't like about color is that it basically tells you what's what. This is grass, this is the sky, those are pants. So if you take the color 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've 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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