Jeff Gillette is a contemporary American artist based in Southern California. He is best known for his subversive 'slumscape' paintings ironically featuring Disney characters. He is often cited as the inspiration for Banksy's 2015 Dismaland theme park installation, in which he was a featured artist.
Gillette grew up in the suburbs outside Detroit and drew a lot of creative inspiration from "The Wonderful World of Disney" TV show. When he visited the actual Disneyland theme park in 1978, he found himself disappointed by its artificiality. As an artist, however, Disney characters, especially Mickey Mouse, continued to hold his interest. Gillette dropped out of college in 1982 and began touring the most "beautiful and horrid landscapes" he could find, which included the Himalayas and Calcutta, India. He later became a volunteer for the Peace Corps.
Many of the 'slumscapes' he paints are directly inspired by the residential slums he witnessed in his extensive travels. After moving to Orange County for a teaching position (where Disneyland is based), he became inspired to combine the two distinct aesthetics of residential wastelands and theme parks in his work. Gillette is a self-described pessimist, influenced by the writings of German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer.
He describes his work as "taking the things people love and imposing the worst-case scenario [on them]”. Spring 2015, Gillette was messaged on Facebook by Banksy's manager and invited to participate in a secretive group exhibition called Dismaland, a temporary art project organized by Banksy and built in the resort town of Weston-super-Mare, three hours outside of London.The pop-up would be a fully functioning theme park designed as "a sinister twist on Disneyland." It opened on August 21, 2015 and ran until September 27.
Banksy described it as a "family theme park unsuitable for children.”