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Nightmarescapes: The Dark Fantasy Worlds of Artist Jeff Pittarelli
Noirish photorealism brings famous sci-fi, horror, and fantasy characters to life.
By Dan Cziraky
November 02, 2000
The first time I noticed Jeff Pittarelli's work was on a cover of the magazine IMAGI-MOVIES. Then, he started doing covers for CHILLER THEATRE, including a gorgeous ALIEN: RESURRECTION painting of Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and Call (Winona Ryder) against a background of Alien warriors. One day, I got a call from CHILLER THEATRE publisher Kevin Clement, asking if I'd be interested in performing a wedding ceremony for a couple who wanted to be married at one of Clement's Chiller Theatre Toy, Model & Film Expos. As an ordained minister and die-hard horror movie buff, I was thrilled at such an opportunity to unite fellow genre fans. The couple: artist Jeff Pittarelli and his fiancee, Renee. They were married by me on October 31, 1997, with legendary TV horror host John Zacherle giving the bride away, and the vows read from a copy of H.P. Lovecraft's NECRONOMICON!
So, just how does somebody get this twisted? Well, Pittarelli's from San Diego originally. Ah . . . California. Explains a lot already! 'In my senior year of high school, I elected to take a community college class of 'life drawing' in lieu of showing up for the first half of high school,' he tells me. 'Quite a thrill for my teachers in high school to discover my nude drawings were from live models. I received a full scholarship to the Maryland College of Art & Design through the Scholastic Art Awards competition. My portfolio was the first entirely black & white portfolio to ever win.'
His first job out of college was as an illustrator for the IRS in
Washington, D.C. 'Quite dull, but I learned a lot about how the treasury printed money, as well as postage stamps,' he explained. 'The artists creating the engravings were quite talented, but extremely technical.'
How does an IRS illustrator go on to creating stunning portraits of Brandon Lee as THE CROW or Melinda Clarke in RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, PART 3? 'Probably the two single greatest influences on my artistic career in the horror and fantasy field were Frank Frazetta and Bernie Wrightson,' Pittarelli comments. 'Bernie's work still amazes me even today. Now that he works as a conceptual artist for the film industry, his work really shines.
'I heard a rumor that Frazetta has a photographic memory. From what I understand, Frazetta could compose any of his paintings in his head and rotate them till he had the angle and composition he wanted, then start creating. He has to be the most genuine and spontaneous artist there is, living today.'
As a child, Pittarelli was also a fan of the black & white Warren Publishing comics magazines, such as CREEPY, EERIE, and VAMPIRELLA. 'I was a big Vampi fan, but Mom and Dad wouldn't let me buy the poster. Had to settle for the sexy art in the 'zines instead.'
Another big influence on the artist was Swiss fantasist H.R. Giger, legendary concept artist for Ridley Scott's ALIEN (1979). 'I remember seeing Giger's work for the first time in 1979 as his NECRONOMICON book first appeared, as well as his ALIEN film design,' Pittarelli recalls. 'Truly a master of the airbrush, at the time. I didn't care for his pen & ink work, but the translucent layers of airbrush really influenced me to try the damn thing. I didn't start airbrushing till I reached my 30th birthday. I was lucky enough to have met Jim Cowen, publisher and agent of Giger (owner of Morpheus Publishing) at Giger's last exhibition in New York, back in 1993. Giger was truly a strange man. I was quite disappointed in the man himself, but more impressed with his work in person. At the time, Giger hadn't airbrushed in ten years. Fortunately, he picked it up again for his work on the SPECIES film.
'I also befriended Hajime Sorayama thru a company I was working for inthe early '90s. My job was to try and get him to the U.S. for an airbrush convention in Atlanta. Everything worked out, and I met the pin-up king at his first exhibition, sometime in '94 at the Tamara Bane Gallery in L.A. He was quite nice and I enjoyed a lunch with him the day after his opening. Every time I see his work, it gets better. His subject matter is the future of pin-up. I especially loved his painting of a sexy Nun in high heels and a corset that is hidden by her outfit.'
Pittarelli's work can be described as noirish photo-realism, and many of his best paintings are based on characters from sci-fi, horror, and fantasy films. He works in various mediums, and has done huge, wall-sized cavasses, as well as small, sedate paintings. Obviously, as a genre fan, he has some interesting opinions on the subject. 'Some of my favorite films include BLADERUNNER and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, which I've seen over a hundred times each. I also enjoy (much to the chagrin of my friends) the majority of horror and gore films: BASKET CASE, the EVIL DEAD series, and probably my favorite has to be RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, PART 3, directed by Brian Yuzna. Something about the film really moves me. I've obsessed over it for years. Lately, THE MATRIX, and a twisted little film called FREEWAY, were really great films for their genre.'
As an artist, Pittarelli feels that poster art for sci-fi, horror and fantasy films of recent years has suffered. He'd love the opportunity to create new poster or video-box art for some of his favorites. 'The BLADERUNNER art is absolutely one of the worst movie posters I've seen. That would be an easy one for me,' he comments. 'Sometimes I think the artists involved in the design of these covers have no interest in the project at all. I'd also like to redesign THE CROW (I'd show more Brandon), THE MATRIX (I'd show less of the secondary characters and maybe show a little of the Agents), ALIEN: RESURRECTION (don't we deserve a decent ALIEN poster by now?), and probably BATMAN RETURNS (just because Michelle Pfeiffer looks so good in that costume). With movies being released so fast now, artwork done by hand has become very scarce, with digital art and photos being the the norm. I'd go back to the old days of THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and paint more of a collage piece. After all, the trailer pretty much shows the whole film anyway; why can't the artwork do
As a genre fan, Pittarelli tries to keep up with what is going on in the literary world, but admits, 'I don't read much now. I'm a huge fan of Stephen King's. I really envied Wrightson for doing the illustrations in THE STAND. I was given a book by a friend of mine to read called SUNGLASSES AFTER DARK, by Nancy Collins, and I've been a fan of hers ever since. Also, I just illustrated a piece of art for the 10th Anniversary edition of the book. I used to read a lot of Edgar Rice Burroughs and some of the classics, like Mary Shelly's FRANKENSTEIN, as well as Victor Hugo's NOTRE DAME DE PARIS (THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME). Last, but certainly not least, I'd love a chance to illustrate a special edition of Clive Barker's BOOKS OF BLOOD. Clive's work has to be some of the most original ever written.
Pittarelli is also a comics fan, and would love the chance to work in that field. 'I'd have to do a painted book,' he admits. 'I've never been much of an inker. I also think that Alex Ross kinda has [the painted book] market locked in for the next millennium. But, if I could, or if I were offered, it would have to be DAREDEVIL or BATMAN. I was more of a Marvel fan in the old days than DC, but DC seems to have the rights to all the cool projects nowespecially the BATMAN: BLACK AND WHITE series.'
With his penchant for (and breathtaking executions of) the female form, Pittarelli has participated in the comics' 'bad girl art' movement, with stunning renditions of DARKCHYLDE and LADY DEATH, among others. He sees this trend starting to fade from the comics, though, and invading the world of television. 'Look at BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS, CLEOPATRA 2525, RELIC HUNTER and, coming soon, the WITCHBLADE and SHEENA, QUEEN OF THE JUNGLE TV series,' he evinces. 'I personally think that for a successful comic book in this day and age, the book has to be tied in to a movie or TV project. Super heroes just aren't what they used to be. Don't get me wrong; Batman, Superman and Spider-Man are still mainstays. But what about all the rest? With deadlines the way they are, it takes a lot more than it used to, to keep a readers attention.' Indeed, with the fall-off in comic readership over the last few years, more and more publishers are staying afloat with licensing their characters to video games and movies.
As a working artist whose talent is drawing more and more praise and recognition within the sci-fi, fantasy and horror fields, Pittarelli works towards realizing his ultimate goal: 'My dream project would be as a conceptual designer for a horror or vampire film, where I had a hand in the look of the film itselfinda like Tim Bradstreet's work on BLADE 2to be a visionary and see it all come to life.'
Pittarelli's current projects include many privately commissioned pieces, including: a Traci Lords (NOT OF THIS EARTH) portrait, for the actress herself; Catherine Zeta Jones (THE HAUNTING) as a vampiress; an official Bruce Lee poster for Universal Studios; a promotional poster for the Etherian Comic Book Company (poster to premiere at Dragon Con, Atlanta, GA, June 29 - July 2); and, a collage based on THE MATRIX that's 'a gift for myself,' he told me. 'I think I'll be able to breathe sometime in August or September!'
For a look at more of Pittarelli's works, please visit his website at www.Pittarelli.com.