BY BETH ALLEN
In the vein of artists like Big Daddy Roth, Robert Williams, Pushead, and Von Dutch, Dirty Donny has been painting and pinstriping up a frenzy, crankin’ out the cool for the last couple decades. With an endless slew of band posters, stickers, t-shirts, toys, custom pinball machines, and other kick-ass kitsch, Dirty Donny doesn’t ever seem to slow down. Most recently, Donny has taken it upon himself to keep the spirit of ’70s vannin’ culture alive and kickin’. DON’T COME KNOCKIN’ couldn’t help but notice his van lust — seen through his vannin’ slogan inspired T-shirts designs, his killer Johnny Lightning custom van die cast “Vantastic,” his AMT model kit contract — the first in his series being “Vantasy” ( a ’70s Chevy custom van featuring decals), along with a van mural inspired art show in Santa Monica, California in February 2012, “Vantastic Voyage.” Needless to say it was high time DON’T COME KNOCKIN’ hit up Dirty Donny to talk about what else — vans! January 2012 we did just that. Only one thing to say here... keep on truckin’ Donny, we dig what you’re doin’!
Tell us a little about yourself — name, age, where you live:
Donny Gillies, I live in San Francisco!
Why the name “Dirty Donny”?
It’s my old fanzine and the nickname stuck.
Why did you want to move to the US from Canada?
For the burritos, why else?
What do you miss most about Canada?
The freezing cold, the snow, salt they put on the roads, I miss that. I miss putting my car away for the whole winter and only driving it for a few months out of the year.
You do all kinds of cool art (check out Donny’s web site at dirtydonny.com) but let’s focus on the van angle you’ve been taking lately — why VANS?
Well I have always loved vans, in fact one of the first times we met I think we talked about vans? I recently restored my ’69 Satellite and am now in the middle of a ’75 Chevy shorty. My dad and uncle both had custom vans in the ’70s.
Did Canada have a ’70s van culture like the one in the US?
It sure did. It wasn’t a border thing, vans were huge in Canada in the ’70s as well.
Does Canada have it’s own pop culture like the US does? What would some of that be?
I’ve been here for 10 years so the only thing I know that’s happening is the Ottawa music scene, and it’s on fire right now. The White Wires, Mothers Children, Peach Kelly Pop to name a few.
Where do think your fascination with ’70s pop culture comes from?
Being a little kid in the ’70s. Banana seat muscle bikes, Smokey and the bandit, trading cards, comic books, Kiss toys, pinball and pizza.
Give us the lowdown on the van-themed products you have out now —
Every so often I make a sticker set with Poster Pop. My last set featured a set of shorty Vans. A Chevy, Dodge and Ford.
Same as the stickers, I brought back some old slogans “Do it in a van” and “Rolling Room” then a little Bob Seeger tribute “Night Moves”.
How did the Johnny Lightning die cast van come about?
My artist friend Jay Cruz (fellow Vandoleros member) did a Charger and hooked me up. Jay has a fucking rad Ford van and is quite an amazing artist.
How did the AMT model kits come about?
That was through my friend Wade, the guy I do the pinball machines with. He is friends with one of the guys from AMT. That’s how the connection was made. AMT really dug my work so they offered me a three-kit deal. Well I just recently did the Vantasy. They own the name so it was up for grabs if I wanted to use it.
So the first one is “Vantasy”— tell us about it.
It’s a van kit. I got to mix and match a few kits, ad customizing options like windows and spoilers making a sort of “Dream Kit” with lots of extras. I also got to make two decal sheets as well as a chrome tree. I think all this stuff is important, as well as nice box art. They sure didn’t cheap out, this is one fancy package.
So if it’s a three-kit contract what are the next two going to be?
Next one is a monster, it’s been sculpted and looks incredible.
I like the Vans T-shirt with the van-driving monster on it! How did you get hooked up doing stuff for Vans shoes? Was it before or after some of your custom van-themed art started coming out?
Actually I did that series back in ’08. They liked the idea of a surf van and skate monster. Big companies like Vans work about a year or more in advance. So you design something and it might not hit the stores for a few years.
Any more van-oriented art projects down the road — did I miss anything?
I’m sure there will be more. Keep in touch, check the blog — dirtydonnyart.blogspot.com.
So you have a van of your own... what’s the make and model?
75 Chevy shorty.
Any plans to pimp it out? And are you a do-it-yourself kinda guy or will you hire someone else to do it?
I’m painting it with a friend, Gordon of Gordini’s Garage’s just stuck a fresh rebuilt 350 short block in it not to mention a rebuilt tranny. I’m going to restore most of the interior myself.
Describe your wet dream van... sky’s the limit here!
My van, haha.
And what tunes would you be crankin’ while driving that beast?
I have amassed a nice 8-track collection: Ramones, Iggy, Dead Boys, Sabbath, Bob Seeger, Mott the Hoople, Thin Lizzy just to name a few.
So I guess I don’t really have to ask you... but Chevy, Ford or Dodge?
It’s a Chevy van. When I set out to find a van I was mostly looking for a mid ’70s shorty survivor with interior intact. That’s basically what I got.
What about ass, grass or gas?
Ass and gas I don’t smoke grass.
What’s your favorite movie that has a van or vans in it?
Have you ever been to a van truckin’ or van show-n-shine?
Fuck, I basically got the van two years ago and it went into the shop for the resto. These things take a while. I plan to do a little traveling in it so hit me up when it’s done!
What do you think would be the ultimate theme for an air-brushed mural side of a van?
My solo show “Vantastic Voyage” will be at Copro Nason gallery in Santa Monica February 25th. (Since I did this interview with Donny the show has come and gone.) I will have ten ’70s sci-fi Fantasy inspired van murals painted on canvas as well as another ten black light paintings. I have also hand crafted ten 20-sided metal flake airbrushed dice that are bowling ball sized. So I have just spent the last few months painting my dream murals and I would love to show you guys!
Anything else you want to add?
PICTURED ABOVE: (Top to Bottom) “Vantasy” AMT model kit, “Vantastic” Johnny Lightning die cast toy custom van, rebuilt 350 short block, poster promotion for Donny’s Copro Nason gallery show February 2012 in Santa Monica, CA.