ART REVIEW: "Michael Gittes: Ladies and Gentlemen"-Prohibition Gallery

(Author's note: this review is a counterpart to my interview with Michael Gittes, whose new show at Prohibition Gallery I visited before its opening reception.  Enjoy!)

Prohibition Gallery is a spare, small gallery on Washington Boulevard, sharing the Culver City Arts District with other galleries such as Corey Helford Gallery and Hinge Modern (where I have previously reviewed shows and interviewed artists).  With its white walls, concrete floor and barred windows, Prohibition Gallery stands in stark contrast to its neighbors.  Being in the small space feels intimate.  The gallery's ambiance is one of edgy youth (the gallery opened recently, in 2011) and a sense of cool.
Michael Gittes. Black and White Rainbow (Jackson Pollock).  Acrylic on canvas.
Copyright Prohibition Gallery.

Currently on display is Ladies and Gentlemen, a showing of recent works by Angeleno contemporary artist Michael Gittes.  Ladies and Gentlemen is a tribute to some of Gittes' greatest artistic inspirations: the Renaissance great Michelangelo Buonarroti, the Neoclassicist Jacques-Louis David, early Modernist Henri Matisse, Surrealist RenĂ© Magritte, and Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock.  Gittes works primarily in acrylic paint on paper and canvas; he is known for his idiosyncratic use of syringes to apply paint, rather than a brush or a palette knife.  After creating the drawing and rendering the negative spaces in paint, he creates a monoprint as the final product, lending each work an air of freshness and spontaneity.

The works in Ladies and Gentlemen are divided among portraits of the aforementioned artists, works inspired by their artistic aesthetics, and works with a more philosophical background.  The paintings are, for the most part, explosive and dynamic; those painted in white on black canvas are the strongest works.

What is particularly stunning about the portraits is that Gittes has combined a sense of each artist's aesthetic or philosophy in the composition.  For example, Father Moon (RenĂ© Magritte) combines a profile of the man himself in a bowler hat below a crescent moon, which are well-known Magritte motifs. Black and White Rainbow (Jackson Pollock), seen below, likewise combines a portrait of the artist with the dramatic drips and slashes of paint for which Pollock is known. The latter painting is one of the highlights of the show; the gallery has rightfully made it the advertising image on its posters and flyers.  The sheer amount of tension and power in that concentrated mass of white drips made it hard for me to look away.
Michael Gittes in the gallery during installation.  
Copyright Prohibition Gallery.

Though the majority of works are in black and white, several feature sparing use of color that, depending on the hue, imbues the work with emotional undercurrents.  Shoot the Moon, another true highlight of the show, breaks up the black and white with a solitary blue moon, furthering the sense of loneliness created by the isolated figure in the boat in the foreground.  

This show also shows strength in how it creates situations where the masters whose portraits line one wall dialogue with the works Gittes created (in their influence) across the room.  For example, across from the Michelangelo portrait is Dannazione (seen below) done in black on white paper, depicting Michelangelo beginning work on the Sistine Chapel.  His head is in his hands; the blank expanse of that ceiling looms over him forebodingly.  The title of the work means "damnation", and when juxtaposed with the Michelangelo portrait, which is titled Bearded Slave, the intent is clear: the Sistine ceiling, and painting, was Michelangelo's hellish prison.
Michael Gittes. Dannazione.  Acrylic on paper.
Copyright Prohibition Gallery.

Ladies and Gentlemen is, then, a refreshingly bold tribute from Gittes to the artists he loves most.  While it may seem easy to overlook this small space on the corner of the street, I recommend ducking inside and being swept away.

(Prohibition Gallery is located at 6039 Washington Boulevard. Ladies and Gentlemen closes February 1.)


  1. Outstanding review!! Am heading to the gallery this week to see this and bringing locals with me! Very excited to see the works.


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