Canines, Music and Authentic Style

Michael Gillette’s new book Pack of Dogs, published in August this year, is an ode to some of the most influential musicians of the century – through the lens of their canine doppelgängers. Michael’s idea to recreate some of his favourite musicians as canines, stemmed from a chance encounter with a box of vintage dog cards he came across in a San Francisco thrift shop. There were 10 identical bulldog drawings inside, and he began “re-facing” them and making generic style tribes; hippies, goths, punks etc.

Pack of Dogs was born out of a fun project, but has developed into a striking collection of easily-identifiable illustrations, featuring an eclectic mix of artists including; Lady Gaga, Bob Marley and James Brown. It is not simply about the legacy of the chosen artists’ music but their style and how these styles speak to the cultural moment connected.

He chose musicians who have a ‘solid look,’ embedded in our collective consciousness. For example, it is not so hard to recognise Jimi Hendrix as a dachshund when he is dressed in his Hussar’s jacket and donning a full head of hair so well detailed it is instantly recognisable. 

THE PLUS: We love the book! Where did the idea for your project originally stem from?

Michael Gillette: Ah great, thank you so much! After redesigning the bull dog cards from the thrift shop, I sent them out to friends who had helped with my last book Drawn in Stereo. It was such fun that I decided to have my own drawings printed in multiples and continue the experiment.

TP: What warranted the decision to include an artist, or did you mainly chose musicians who had influenced you personally?

MG: The first dog I customised as a celebrity was a David Bowie chihuahua. His Ziggy look has so many hallmarks, he was “low hanging fruit.” I also really love him. I’m a huge music fan, I have some connection to most of the artists I portray in the book. I also picked musicians who have a signature look, so they are more easily recognisable.

TP: Was there anyone you tried to feature that did not work? Who was your biggest challenge?

MG: Women are much more difficult. That’s why there are only a handful in the book. I tried Dolly Parton a couple of times with no luck. I also wanted to do some duos. Simon and Garfunkel would have been enjoyably ridiculous, but I ran out of time. 

TP: Do you have a specific process you use to decide a musician’s dog-counterpart?

MG: It’s a hunch initially, then I experiment and see if it’s going to work. Later in the project I started using an iPad to plan them out and this helped me push things further without wasting prints. 

TP: Tell us a bit more about the creative process.

MG: First, I draw a dog portrait in pencil then print around 10 copies onto thick watercolour paper. If areas need adapting, I white out parts of the print with a Gelly Roll pen.

Next, I decide on a celebrity and research as much as possibleto absorb their characteristics. I draw with a few mechanical pencils, trying to adapt the underdog. At this stage it looks hopeless, and I always go through a spell where I think it’s never going to work. 

Then something will change, and the personality will emerge. It’s like a magic trick, that I witness. That’s the fun of it for me, it’s a surprise every time it works.

TP: You have an obvious investment in pop-culture and the role and legacy of these musicians, and you have previously expressed interest in how musicians influence fashion and street style.

MG: Hmm. I think about this more than I should! Many of these dogs/musicians are from a golden age. They would have picked their look without the help of stylists. In London in the 60s, there were a handful of boutiques where stars would have shopped, places like Granny Takes a Trip, or Biba. Now, everything is much more overloaded and corporatised.

TP: How do you think fashion in the music industry is changing today?

MG: Lady Gaga, I salute for playing with image, but she seems contrived. I first saw Pharrell’s ranger hat on Malcolm McLaren, the Sex Pistols’ manager. He wore it during the early ’80s when he did the Duck Rock album. He probably stole that look from the Bronx, like he plundered everything else. Now it’s become part of the supermarket of style, and Pharrell picked it up. Tyler the Creator is the last in the book, he has a great handle on his image.

TP: How have your subjects, that are still around, received your work?

MG: Wayne Coyne and Ozzy, who became involved in the book, are the only two I’ve received feedback from, and they enjoyed them. I’m interested to see who else will get to see their dog.

TP: Although there is a quirky, fun feel to the illustrations, some of the written elements of the book provide a more nostalgic, intimate and sentimental feel. Were you conscious of using these two elements – photos and writing – to compliment one another?

MG: I enjoyed the writing. I wanted it to be personal, but also connect, without being pretentious. Music has such power and has really changed my life direction. Whenever one of these musicians has really touched my life, they’ve influenced my work and attitude. I discovered the Beatles when I was 9 when Magical Mystery tour was on TV. I really was not the same after falling in love with them, I decided then, that creativity was my future.

TP: If you were to be featured in the book, what canine would you be?

MG: If I could have a personality dog it’d be Ringo. I think he’d be mellow and hang out by the fire. I sadly don’t have a look that’d work!

Pack of Dogs is out on Four & Sons.