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Reality Bites



One could expect an artist who creates on keyboard rather than canvas to flout other artistic conventions as well. Yet Frank Gillette, who crafts his works after plugging in and firing up tools such as powerful Macintosh computers and Adobe software, tackles the same dynamics confronting all artists. Drawing upon his own images as well as other artworks and snippets from mass media, Gillette pieces together his own interpretation of composition, color, shape and perspective. The result is often surprisingly traditional in its outlook, if not its appearance.


The focal point of Gillette's work isn't the technology he employs but his ability to transform, combine and reposition images. Frank Gillette: Digital Images 1994-1999, an Everson Museum of Art exhibit showcasing 42 works created as part of four series, clearly demonstrates that the Manhattan-based Gillette is much more than a technician. Large-scale pieces such as “Eros 55: The Aurelian” and “Eros 12: The Miner's Canary” document ample artistic skills and imagination. Moreover, even a casual viewing of the Everson show reveals the many ways in which Gillette revels in overlapping images and new visual combinations.


Gillette's influences, both contemporary and traditional, float easily near the surface of his works. “Vanitas No. 6,” for example, includes an excerpt from a Baroque painting, although the image doesn't dominate the work; it coexists with other imagery. And “After Bellini” invokes the name of a well-known family of painters in medieval Venice but displays no visual connections to their works. Similarly, although the title of “After Giotto" refers to a seminal Florentine painter of the 1300s, the piece doesn't replicate his artistic style.


Perhaps most interesting, several pieces explore Gillette's perspective on modern society, particularly life as it is lived in the late 20th century. That discussion is far from straightforward, as the show demands viewers look at works several times to truly consider their gist. Nonetheless, it seems clear that Gillette, even as he uses state-of-the art technology, has profound doubts about modern life. Several pieces speak of disorder and alienation. “Afflicted Musician No. 2" and “Eros 98: Stormy Monday" both depict conditions of chaos, while “HCE 71: Furioso.” focuses on life in the midst of a storm. In “Eros 65: Solux Rex“ conflictis seen as pervasive and unavoidable. And two of the best works, “HCE No.52: Monkey's Birthday" and “HCE No. 72: Blind Faith,” share a perspective that's certainly not optimistic. In the former piece, people are completely marginalized; in the latter, nature is disjointed and out of step.


Those artworks show Gillette at the top of his game, able to create works that are both visually and conceptually interesting. Unfortunately, such pieces suffer as part of an uneven lineup. The show has both fine work and less impressive works such as “Intermezzo 94-95,” which has no particular appeal. There's a dead zone of 10 or 12 images with little energy and small doses of the intensity abundant in the better works.

Despite such inconsistency, the exhibit as a whole establishes Gillette's appeal as rooted in what he creates, not the tools he uses. The artist isn't just pulling from images at random; he delivers a rich visual package and expresses ideas in a remarkably non-intrusive way.



Carl Mellor



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