In anticipation of Wyatt Mills‘ solo show, “Phantasmagoria,” at the debut of ESSNTL Gallery in Bergamot Station, CARTWHEEL paid a visit to the artist’s studio. Mills makes his residence at The Brewery, one of the oldest and largest artist colonies in the world- certainly Los Angeles’ most famous.
It makes sense that Mills would gravitate toward this kind of community. Stepping into his space is like entering a dimension where there’s no division between art and life. It’s like a giant, three-dimensional version of one of his paintings. Everything in the place seems animated with his creative energy. Large canvases in various degrees of completion lure attention around the perimeter of the high-ceilinged loft. Easels and rectangular white stands seem to carry on conversations with one another. Aerosol cans mingle with candles. Multiple palettes blossom with rainbow colored blobs of oil. Lamp light radiates from points in the room like stars floating in space. Leather jackets are layered between newspapers and vintage magazines- potential collage components.
With such a kaleidoscope of influences, materials and imagery detectable in his work, “Phantasmagoria,” is an apt title. The word also conveys the art’s ethereal, dream-like character. It has delicate, in-focus moments and heavier, more physically constructed areas.
The work references such a span of artists as Abstract Expressionists Basquiat and Francis Bacon, figurative painter Lucian Freud, Surrealist Dali, and punk rock collagist Jamie Reid. With the work’s rich visual complexity, psychological presence and activist spirit, the young artist seems like an old soul: one who knows the importance of play, experimentation, and embracing the ever-transitioning scenes of life.
Mills also has a perspective stretching from the East to the West Coast. CARTWHEEL sought some insight into his experience and practice.
You said you landed back in California from New York about five months ago. How does that world compare for you to the one out here?
New York surrounded me with other people who were serious about their work–a rat-race which caused me step up my game. Housing prices and petty police arrests were getting too ridiculous, though. Once I saw the studio space I could get out here for the price of a shitty Brooklyn apartment, it was kind of game over for me. I miss my people out in New York, but I’m focusing on getting some serious work done this year. Also, don’t ever expect your security deposit back in Brooklyn.
Do you feel there’s a consistent theme that carries through your work, even as it evolves? What’s your most recent discovery via your process?
It’s always funny looking back at old works and how things have progressed. You can look at where you were and where you are now. But the hardest thing to do is envision where the path is headed, in hopes of skipping a few steps forward. Ever since the beginning, I’ve always been into creating imagery with subjects and themes that some people might find uncomfortable to look at. I’ve always gotten satisfaction out of painting ugly things in a pretty way.
I had confrontation down, but recently I’m beginning to cater more to the conversation the viewer has with the piece. My earlier work depicted issues in a more obvious and direct manner. I’ve become more interested in orchestrating a dialogue with the viewer. I’ve strayed away from conclusions, and now I’m more interested shedding light on a question…
There’s a great range of inspiration detectable in your pieces. There’s also a gradation between tightly controlled points and very free areas. What’s the role of planning vs. spontaneity? How about the part of deconstruction?
I have always been on a mission to be anti-tasteful, but unfortunately I can be a serious OCD perfectionist. Four years ago I would start by swinging brushes and throwing paint, but then getting funneled into this frustrating perfection. It’s hard to remember to slap yourself and stop from over-working a piece, while at the same time not being afraid to try new things. My process now is all about building, destroying, then rebuilding. It’s important that I have fun making my work. If it’s starting to get boring, then I realize I have done something wrong. I’ve gotten a lot braver at forcing myself out of my comfort zone and trying random mediums and strategies that almost never work. A lot of happy accidents and new situations come out of this, which teach me how to solve problems that come up in future works. I fight between destroying and recreating them until I find a balance between chaotic and cohesive.
Are there any other creative plans in the works right now?
I have a lot of ideas lined up, but after this show I’m going on a vacation/hopefully painting some walls outside. Being in the studio for 2 months is kind of unhealthy.
I’d say Mills has earned some time to recharge. The amount of focus, ambition and devotion in the work is very evident! See for yourself. Delve into pieces that are raw, vibrant portrait-scapes: dialogues between a mirage-like inner world and the society in which it finds itself. Join in the celebration of Wyatt Mills and ESSNTL Gallery Saturday, March 8 from 6pm-9pm, running through April 5.
2525 Michigan Ave, Unit G7, Bergamot Station
Santa Monica, CA 90404