Louisville's Jeff Gaither's 'art for the criminally insane' goes local, gets fine

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Jeff Gaither didn't offer me a seat when I entered his home and studio in South Louisville. As the first piece of furniture I noticed was a life-sized replica of an electric chair, which tied in well with the rest of his home's decor (think a muted Pee-wee's Playhouse, only evil), I wasn't offended. But interior design by Tales from the Crypt rather than Southern Living wasn't much of a surprise given Gaither's portfolio: Other patrons of Gaither's with which you're probably familiar include Guns N' Roses, The Misfits and the Guitar Hero 3 video game. Jeff Gaither's family is probably cooler than yours So who started this lifelong Louisville resident on an art career that included nailing a presidential candidate wearing an American flag loin cloth to a cross? His mother and aunt--sit down Dr. Freud, not in that kind of way. "My aunt used to buy me horror magazines all the time when I was younger, like Famous Monsters," Gaither said. Plus his mother and aunt were involved in Actors Theatre of Louisville. "They both were into horror and drawing," he said. During his childhood, Gaither also collected Rat Fink memorabilia, a vicious-looking satire of Mickey Mouse, created by Ed "Big Daddy" Roth. "I loved that stuff when I was a kid. Years later I actually wrote to him [Roth] and then I ended up working for him for about five years," Gaither said. In the 1980s Gaither helped Roth with shirts, comic books and bubblegum cards among other items. But a vomiting mutant would not have won the St. James Court Art Show's poster contest (probably) As Gaither's initial works for the Forecastle Festival (he's the event's official branding artist) make clear, Publo Picasso is an influence. He also cited R.K. Sloan, Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol as inspirations. "A lot of people know me for the horror stuff," Gaither said. "I actually can do a wide range of stuff. It's just that once you get pigeonholed, people are sort of afraid to go beyond that," he said, citing his first-place prize in last year's poster contest for the St. James Court Art Show. "It took me all of 40 minutes to do." For the Heads Up Kentucky project, which promotes healthy living, Gaither painted a bust to look like a puzzle of red balls and trees to represent dementia. When we spoke, Gaither was splitting his time between 16 shirt designs for an apparel manufacturer and a series of 20 large paintings, the details of which he's not sharing yet. "They're like nothing I've ever done before," Gaither said. "I'm going to try and go the fine art direction." Louisville: Always a great place to live, becoming a better place to work "I love living in Louisville," Gaither said. But as for its impact on his art career? While emphasizing that he wasn't saying anything bad about the city, Gaither said he had an easier time rising to prominence internationally than he has in his hometown. "I've done four or five hundred album covers, and that's for people all over the world. I've done hundreds and hundreds of posters. And just now I'm starting to become really known in Louisville and people are actually paying attention and actually getting me to do stuff." Gaither credits his recent work for the Forecastle Festival, The Courier-Journal, The Leo, Velocity and the St. James Court Art Show for raising his standing in Louisville. But if you become a client of Gaither's, don't be concerned if you visit his studio and he doesn't offer you a seat right away. For more information: Check out Louisville.com's The Arts page to learn about other local and visiting artists. (Image: Courtesy of Jeff Gaither)
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