Wheeling along at a pace meant for folk much older, the wind blew our hair back while we sped across Dan-Torrence-esque carpet in our square boxcar. Chasing anyone in our path, taking out any nefarious foe in our kindergarten class, the 5-year-old me pushed a 5-year-old pilot Donny Gillies in our very own Mad Max vehicle. Well, at least that’s how we recall it. Little did I know, that same thirst for speed and adventure would continue to be a vital ingredient into what has made “Dirty Donny” one of the greatest artist in the world, and by far the coolest person I know.
Yes, there is the touring the world promoting his art and the collection of classic vehicles, which all add to the fucking awesomeness of this dude, but for me it goes further than that – way further.
Not too far after our boxcar days, we both moved up the road to Queensway Public School in Ottawa. I was always in a different class, but always looked into his room to see how he was doing. This wasn’t a school that promoted education – these kids needed taming, because no one was paying attention to anything in there. The classes I was in did a few bits of math and whatnot, but played floor hockey for the whole period after lunch until it was time to go home – every day. We didn’t learn much. Over in Don’s class they weren’t doing much teaching either, but they let him draw. Every time I looked into his room he had his head down and was drawing. He was always drawing.
It gets right fucking cold in Canada, but this didn’t mean they didn’t throw us outside for 30 minutes twice a day. It could have been -50 Celsius and we’d still get thrown out in the cold, while the fucking teachers stood inside the doors drinking coffee and laughing at us. To make the best of it, we played “King of the Hill” – a game utilizing the mountains of snow plowed into the corner of our school yard. The rules of the game were simple – there are no rules – last man standing on the hill is deemed King of the Hill. I was always too fat to win, but had fun smashing smaller kids off the hill. One morning, I’m battling on the hill and see this monstrous figure approaching. Not unlike the use of Tauntaun’s on the snow planet of Hoth, Donny had convinced one of the much larger kids to carry him into battle. I mean this kid was a few years older than us, thus significantly bigger. In a matter of minutes the entire hill was cleared and we all gazed up at the reigning King of the Hill with awe. He’s always known how to seize an opportunity, even when the odds may be stacked against him. He has always found success.
Now, jump 10-15 years to 1991. I don’t remember all the details of how it came together, but we got back together to play in a band. The band wasn’t very good musically, but we had a secret weapon – we had Donny. Right out of the gate, we had stickers made to plaster all over the city; and this is what we did. We stuck those stickers everywhere in this city. Donny even came up with the plan to go to the local transit systems terminals and cover the television screens with stickers, so that when people wanted to know when their bus was coming, all they saw was us. Fuck, the transit authority hated us, but we quickly became much more than we ever deserved to be. We had rigged toilet props on stage, all painted by Donny. We couldn’t play our instruments, and we only ever played 7 songs live, but we played every weekend that summer of 1992, and we played crazy shows – some of them even out of town. It should never have happened that way, but people wanted to see what kind of shit we would do next. That all came down to Donny, and I want to thank him for the many fun times that summer, even though the band, that shall not be named, is rarely spoken about between its members anymore.
It was rehearsing with that band that brought me back into Donny’s world of art. We jammed at his parents house in the basement, his bedroom, and a shrine to all the shit I grew up loving. I faintly remember his parents house having many scary grandfather clocks that would go off in madness like Pink Floyd’s Time, and a very odd and frankly terrifying collection of ceramic roosters that seemed to stare at you while you made your way to the toilet. Being a dirty project kid, I didn’t linger in the other parts of his parents house, but I did have the pass the roosters to get to the toilet.
He had the coolest Star Wars and Star Trek models hanging from his ceiling. I can remember a huge Millennium Falcon, and remembering a birthday party he had back when we were very young where he played Star Wars on some sort of huge laser disc – just fucking awesome. His room was covered in great show poster art, all set among a stellar collection of goblins and horror action figures. Granted, this was over 20 years ago, but I can still see that dimly lit room rimmed in artwork and wicked models. It was a great place to learn how to be a band. Soon, we would all pine to have Donny’s art on the walls of all of our jam rooms.
I think the first time I saw his artwork done professionally was at the legendary Dominion Tavern in Ottawa. This tavern housed some of the most fantastic rock/punk shows ever to happen in that city. It was the home of all things against the grain and uglier than the mainstream. I can remember going in for a quart of beer (huge bottles of beer only served in taverns in Quebec or taverns in cities on the border with Quebec) and a few pickled eggs (yeah, that’s right) and seeing the advertising board for the 3D House of Pickled Horrors – hand done by Donny. Later, he would paint a fantastic Frankenstein mural in the hallway by the toilets. The tavern now houses framed work from Donny’s more recent collection of heavily sought after poster art.
When bands like Sweden’s Hellacopters and New Jersey’s Electric Frankenstein started asking for his artwork for not only concert posters, but album covers, we all knew it was starting to happen for him. Honestly, I didn’t see him much around this time, as he was living mainly in Montreal at this point, but did my best to keep an eye on his budding career. This guy was doing what we all dreamed of doing – making his art his career.
As we will dig deeper with part two of this article, we learn that he not only makes a career out of his art, but quickly becomes one of the best and well-known artists of his genre in the world. Fucking Right! Part two comes at you next week…