Author Archives: kevin


halloweenI always get a little nostalgic around Halloween.

Up until I was 30 years old, I worked in New York City making costumes for a living. So every year around this time, when I see everyone so excited about getting “dressed up” and getting their costumes together, it takes me back to the days when costuming was such a big part of my life. I would have been fired from so many movies and shows if they had known how often I “borrowed” costumes to wear out for a night on the town.

One thing New York and New Orleans have in common is that people love to get dressed up. Having access to Broadway and movie caliber costumes meant it was fairly easy for me to get into any club. Nobody held the rope up when you walked in wearing a set of 10-foot articulating angel wings (thanks Angels in America), or an anatomically correct, full body wolf costume with coordinating motorcycle cap and jacket (thanks Stephen Sondheim).

It was difficult to navigate the subway sometimes, or walk the street in 9-inch platform shoes, or to get a cab to stop when you were dressed as a Disney villain. I remember having to ride in the front seat of the cab one time while my friend Jacques had to lie down across the back seat because his wig was too tall. I sort of remember spending New Year’s Eve at the Roxy dressed as – well I am not actually sure what it was – but it was big and flashy and earned me a great place on the dance floor because it poked a lot of people when they got too close.

Making my way home at the end of the night was just about the only downside. Stepping out of an after hours club into 8am rush hour traffic on Sixth Avenue dressed as some 7-foot (including heels) incarnation of Madonna with a crooked wig and smeared makeup can be quite a jolt. My favorite thing about that – just like in New Orleans – was that no one thought a thing of it. Just another day in the Big Apple/Easy.

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A Fresh Perspective

different-perspectiveThere is a movie where a teacher suddenly climbs to stand on top of his desk during a lecture to his students. When asked why he did it, (I may be paraphrasing here) he told his students he wanted to see them from a different angle. I love the idea behind this.

In life, it is all too easy get stagnated ideas about people, about your job, about politics… well, about everything really. Often we sum people up within minutes of meeting them, and then stubbornly hold on to our misconceptions, no matter how often we are proven wrong.

For some reason, having an open mind can scare people to death. Instead of looking to the world around them for answers and understanding, some people only look for things that will back up their own preconceived notions. It’s like with the Bible: most folks don’t read the Bible to find out what to believe – they search for out of context tidbits that they can twist around to back up beliefs – and sometimes prejudices – that they already have. And that can cause them to miss the whole point.

For an artist, trying to look at the world around you in a fresh way every day is the only way to do good work. Stagnation is the death of art. This is not to say that you can’t have a consistent style or consistent ideas, but you need to make sure you are constantly trying to grow. As you go through life, if the world around you, or your idea of God, or your understanding of people, seems to get smaller and more narrowly drawn, then I think you are doing something wrong.

I believe trying to make good art is very similar to trying to make a good life. And keeping a fresh perspective is a huge part of both those things. That’s why even though I have such a demand for my landscape art, I try to work in other genres on a regular basis. Painting abstracts and nudes, making pottery, even writing this blog, helps make all my work better.

So read a book that is about someone completely different than you. Watch a documentary film about a subject of which you know nothing. Be friends with people of all ages. Try to really understand people with whom you violently disagree – don’t just call them idiots. You don’t want to wake up one day and realize that it was you who was the idiot all along.

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Hear No Evil

hear no evilI know, I know, I know, it is such a small-minded, sneaky, and downright petty thing to do. But… Hello my name is Kevin, and I am addicted to eavesdropping.

I don’t know how I picked up such a lowdown habit. And what’s worse, I am talking about listening to conversations of people I don’t even know – in the checkout line, in the coffee shop, at the movie theatre, in the street… I am addicted. It’s so bad I even make notes about it sometimes. People just fascinate me.

Don’t get it twisted… I do not purposely try to overhear what people are trying to keep private. It is more a matter of not tuning out what folks are making no attempt to keep to themselves. Most of what folks say does fall into the category of useless drivel, because of course most of what goes on in our lives is only of interest to ourselves. But sometimes you can hear extraordinary things. You can also learn a lot.

For instance:

  • Cultural trivia – Did you know that “Leonardo DiCaprio painted the Mona Lisa”? And according to my source “that is lucky for him because the Mona Lisa is probably worth at least a million dollars now.”
  • Historical facts – I was not aware that Prince Charles’s mother, QEII, “defeated the Spanish Armada a few years back.”
  • Political news – thank God I overheard this woman warning her friend that “Obama was going to put all white Christians into concentration camps.” Otherwise I might have been caught off guard (note to self – change religions).

I am also constantly shocked about what people will talk about in public. The other day at the drugstore, the two ladies in front of me went into explicit detail about the reasons for their impending Preparation H purchases. Did they go hemorrhoid shopping together? Is that a new thing? You can hear about your neighbor’s sex lives, digestive problems, or money woes. You just have to not – not listen.

On a serious note, I will never forget that I first learned of the approach of Hurricane Katrina by overhearing a conversation. Yes, sometimes I hear things I wish I hadn’t. I have heard things that were sad, funny, scary, ridiculous, and even profound.

Why would anyone want to listen? For me…it keeps me on my toes. It reminds me why I need to vote. It reminds me that not everyone has had the same advantages as me. It keeps me humble. It reminds me of the importance of context. It makes me sympathetic. It makes me angry. It keeps me aware of the zeitgeist.

But most of all it reminds me TO KEEP MY FUCKING MOUTH SHUT – somebody might be listening.

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Opening Acts

eccentricLet me just say upfront that I love all of the openings we host at our gallery. I love the guests. I love the energy. And I love getting to hear people talk about art.

But by far my favorite opening event of the year is Art for Art’s Sake. Most of the time when you host an art exhibition you feel a little bit like you are on stage for the evening – it’s even worse when the exhibition is of your art. I love it, but it can be a bit serious and sometimes a bit stressful. That’s why Art for Art’s Sake is so much fun. It’s the one opening of the year when I can relax and enjoy the party… and the people-watching.

Let’s face it, when you have an evening that draws thousands people and you give away free wine, you are bound to attract a few “characters.” And I’ve seen my share over the years. I once found a woman wandering around the gallery with her arms outstretched trying to sense the spirits of the paintings. One self described “freelance chiropractor” insisted on trying to give me an adjustment over a bench in the middle of the crowded gallery. Then there was the amateur flamenco dancer who started an impromptu performance and nearly shook all the paintings off the walls before I could stop her. I’ve even had to put out a small fire caused by someone who thought every candle I have for sale should be lit.

And then you would be surprised by the way wine can inspire art appreciation. I’ve had so many people end up in tears over how much the art (and the wine) had “moved” them. One of my guest artists told me about watching a woman looking very closely at one of his paintings. She had a very strange look on her face and seemed to be about to speak. As he started to approach her to ask what she thought of his work, she sneezed on his painting and walked away.

Lastly, I have to pay homage to one of my perennial favorites, the poor young woman who over-indulged, with her dress hiked up in the back, her hair disheveled, and her heel broken. I always see her as we are locking up at the end of the night as she tries to navigate her way home down our uneven New Orleans sidewalks (but girl, I’ve been there too).

The folks in New Orleans are the best art patrons in the world, and the few oddities only add to my appreciation of the whole experience. I can’t tell you how much I love being a part of it – probably because I fit right in.

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The Penis Panic

kevin-gillentine-artWhen I was in my twenties, and weighed 150 pounds, I went to a beach in France and got a sunburn on my ass. Many people in France go nude at the beach and so I thought “why not?” Being from a small town in Mississippi I had never been “exposed” to such an open and natural attitude towards nudity. I mean, the folks down at the Baptist church just didn’t spend weekends naked at the Sardis reservoir and spillway. Too bad for them. I did not by any means become a nudist because of that experience, but I remember it as a comment on the ridiculousness that can often surround the subject of nudity.

Having these hangups in daily life is one thing, but when it comes to freaking out about nudity in art, I lose patience. And nothing causes more swooning, more immature giggling, more righteous indignation, more blushing, more self consciousness, more complaining, and more noses out of joint than a male nude with an exposed penis.

It’s 2014 and penises have been the subject of art since art existed. So what is it about male nudity in particular that still sets people off? It’s funny how many more people will accept complete female nudity – even to the point of virtual pornography – without batting an eye, but full frontal male exposure can often bring out almost violent reactions. And obviously that is part of the reason many artists include the penis in their work – because even after thousands of years of human culture, it still has shock value.

Some of you may think that I am exaggerating about this, but I have been in the art business for 25 years, and I can tell you that even in the most benign and universally respected artwork, the male genitalia can always cause a commotion. Once I had a man walk out of the gallery over an antique print of the statue of David. Really? And it’s not like the walls of our gallery are covered with naked men. I’m not a penis peddler. It’s just that in an art gallery they do tend to turn up now and then.

For me, painting a nude is all about the simple yet complex grace of the human form – how vulnerability, confidence, innocence, provocativeness, strength, and frailty all can be represented at the same time in a piece of art just by showing the nude human body. I have so much demand for landscapes that I don’t often get the chance to do nudes, but I’m planning to do a whole exhibition of them at some time in the near future – dicks included… and I can already hear the whispering.

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