Illustrator Matt Lively’s enamel-and-tar paintings for Spider Mites Of Jesus brought unforgettable imagery to Jerry Williams’ engaging documentary about legendary Richmond character Donnie Corker, aka Dirtwoman.
How can you make a documentary about Richmond icon Dirtwoman that shows him selling flowers in front of Mamma Zu when you don’t have any photos of it happening? And how can you illustrate Chris Dovi’s hilarious story about Donnie Corker’s Lee Bridge adventure with no visuals?
This was one of the challenges facing producer Jerry Williams when he was editing Spider Mites Of Jesus: The Dirtwoman Documentary. Donnie Corker, aka Dirtwoman, became a notorious local figure before he died in 2017. He started walking the streets, selling his body in his sister’s dresses, when he was only 13. This began his lifetime of outrageous exploits, from mud wrestling with GWAR founder Dave Brockie to running for mayor of Richmond.
Many of Donnie’s most notorious escapades happened in the time before cell phones. If you wanted a photograph, someone had to bring a camera, get the film developed, and have the pictures printed (so quaint!). Thanks to social media, when Williams started acquiring imagery for his documentary, numerous people provided him with photos and videos, some from as far back as the 70s. However, there were plenty of stories with no visual documentation.
Enter local artist Matt Lively. He and Williams met when Lively received a Pollak Prize from Richmond Magazine in 2012. When Williams approached him with congratulations, Lively replied, “When I was a small, small child, I saw you on TV and listened to your movie reviews and trusted them.”
Williams, who still publishes his reviews on his website, SIFTER, invited Lively to join him for some films. Since then, they’ve become movie buddies, sharing an average of three shows a month. Lively was also familiar with Dirtwoman. “My interactions with Donnie were similar to a lot of 20-year-old male students at VCU,” Lively said. “He would whistle and say nasty things to me.”
While ignoring the trailers one night before a film, Williams recounted his frustration with finding visuals for a story in the documentary. Lively replied, “I could draw something.” The response may have been more than he bargained for; Lively ended up providing a dozen illustrations for the film.
All of Lively’s illustrations for Spider Mites Of Jesus were created in one of his signature styles, using tar on enamel. “It’s a material I used when I first started because it’s ultra cheap and basic,” Lively explained. “It’s kind of gross and smells nasty, but it’s beautiful when it dries.” This technique gave the drawings a gritty quality that reflected Dirtwoman’s style.
Lively provided each illustration in three layers, so Williams could “animate” them, with a foreground, middle-ground and background layer. Williams also slightly blurred the background layer to give them a shallow-focus effect. “It wasn’t true animation,” he said. “There was only slight movement, but it was enough to add an extra layer of visual interest.”
Other than Donnie’s own stories and the interviews with his family, Lively’s illustrations have been one of the most popular elements in the movie. He sold ten of them at the Gallery 5 art show that accompanied the film’s premiere at the Richmond International Film Festival last April. “We were excited to be able to showcase a plethora of the diverse art work inspired by such a colorful Richmond icon,” said Gallery 5 director Parker Galore. “Donnie was one of a kind and, despite being brash and offensive, had such a big heart.”
Lively was delighted to see the finished movie with his drawings. “It was great seeing them 30 feet high,” he said. “It’s like seeing a gigantic painting.”
You can see them for yourself, as well as even more Dirtwoman-related art, when Spider Mites Of Jesus: The Dirtwoman Documentary opens at Movieland for an extended, exclusive run on January 24. The film will run three shows a day as long as it sells tickets. Click here to get yours in advance, and keep an eye out for Williams — he will be attending the screenings on the first weekend.
Illustrations by Matt Lively, courtesy Jerry Williams