An Interview with Wyatt Mills

Mirus Gallery
Aug 14, 2018 11:51PM

On August 4th, the newest Mirus Gallery located in Denver presented “Ambiguities,” a joint exhibit with artists Florian Eymann, Joseph Lee and Wyatt Mills. The creatives shared their interpretations on the humanistic expression that inhibits the world around them. Where classical paintings strove to depict the reality on the surface, these artists seek to go beyond the subject into a deeper reality of existence. The painters utilize traditional portrait as a common device for their experimentations. Although distinct in style, technique and expression, they each display a complex exploration of the layers beneath and throughout the subject. I had the opportunity to borrow some of Wyatt Mills valuable time to ask a few questions on his profession, work and personal life.

Why Portraiture?

For me it works as a great armature for my process of discovering and painting. I’m exploring what can be done with a portrait and what may lay behind it. Some artists are able to transform landscape into an emotional turmoil, in the same way I like to borrow figures and faces as molds or silhouettes that I can dump characterization and likeness into. In my paintings I'm having a conversation about self-identity and the human condition, it all relays itself to portraiture pretty well. All my pieces are deliberately fractured so the viewer has to repair it in their own individual experience. A face is something we are all about to recognize really fast. Everyone looks at a painting and if there are eyes or lips, the brain grabs onto that. So I like to lead people on to recognizable features but then I have all this disarray around it so the viewer is forced to make something up. It’s always a conversation between me and the painting. My pieces are a footprint of that. To have other people bring their own identity into it is fun and interesting for me.

Wyatt Mills, Untitled - Oil on Canvas, 40x30

I like the statement that personality is an ornament. I love the idea that we are all fitting in at a masquerade. Where the masks keep changing and the costume attire and the subject of the party changes every year or month. And we are struggling to fit into that current party. I strive to be more like an observer like a third party. Instead of shutting anyone down for any political, personal or delicate subject opinion, I just want to hear the point of view of where they are coming from and I think that dialogue is very important.

With portraiture I want to define the first wave of information that we have when we see someone out of the corner of our eye at a bus stop, the train or anywhere. You see someone in your peripheral and you feel their energy and who they are. Maybe they are in your space and you feel they are about to encroach on you but you look over and it’s just an older person clinging onto a pole for dear life. They can’t help but be in your space. It’s that first wave of personal judgement but it’s not about them just about how you felt.

Wyatt Mills, Blonde - Oil on Canvas, 48

I like portraiture because focusing on the face and gestures of expression become a fetishizing of the static moment of reality of a feeling that can’t be described in words. It’s ineffable. Some certain moments that I feel I can’t explain and I try to make pictures about. I like to keep in mind the battle between measurement and structure verses how a child might draw. What is right? So I ask multiple friends that have kids and nephews to compile pictures. I ask them to draw heads and brains and see what they come up with. I like their version and I think our version is like putting a grid over a squiggly line. We are trying to measure something that is just going to keep squiggling and keep measuring differently. So I keep that dynamic in my mind during my process.

Portraiture offers a window towards identity. It’s hard to tell if identity is who you portray yourself as or if it’s the trouble we go through to maintain that portrayal. Maybe it’s not who you are but how you portray yourself to the outside world. I want to capture what’s behind that. Who are we verses what are we presenting? A conversation is like a purgatory of identity; You can never be truly yourself and if you are then your not being it because your not being empathetic to the other.  

Wyatt Mills, Face Studies - Oil and Charcoal on Canvas, 30x24 inches each

Process? Are you very particular or more free-flowing?

I’d say pretty free-flowing. I try to be as open to serendipity as I can. If I trip over a can of yellow, yellow is going on something. Sometimes I have an initial idea or a sketch that gets me excited. I know it’s not going to be the final product. The excitement is the part I try to brew. It’s like alchemy and you have to find your prima materia. It’s like what you throw in the pot first to just get all the other stuff sizzling and started and then you can keep throwing in spices and see what happens. After awhile you have to trick yourself into getting into that process mode. If I can’t find anything, I’ll just go up to the painting and destroy a part of it that I like and then I’m just frantically repairing it and before I know it I’m in the zone working on it.  Starting that snowball effect is the hardest part.

I’m always adding a lot of layers. A lot of paintings have multiple, multiple paintings under them. It’s the removal and not being afraid to go over the part you love. I fight to be the dominant one between myself and the painting. It’s ironic because sometimes I'm adding substance and material to this thing to find out what’s underneath it. So that just becomes a catch twenty-two. I’m piling on to find out what’s under. With identity it can be like somebody is mad that day because of something that happened to them twenty minutes ago that day or it’s a deep seeded, long-time ago PTSD situation and, like a painting, one stroke can change the whole expression and feeling of the subject. It really is parallel with identity in that way. You can’t tell with the painting if it’s the first thing that they did, that was this way and then they changed it. Technically, I am interested in confusing the viewer with how it was made. Because who knows what comes first. Is it even relevant?  

Wyatt Mills, Party On - Oil on Canvas, 15.75x12 inches

Hardest Part of your career as an artist?

Managing my time and mental health. The balance between work and pleasure. I wake up and I go to my studio everyday and anyone who steps in front of that, even a friendly person who wants to hang out that day, I get annoyed at that. There is a notion that when you say you are an artist that people can think that you don’t have “work.” But it’s literally 8-10 hours a day in my studio. I have to make sure I do that. I have to make sure my social acquaintances can understand that. Another hard part is learning to be your own financial manager. In art school you learn about art history but you don’t get any 101 on finance or gallery sharks. It’s not a constant income, you get one gold mine at a time and then just chip away at it. I found myself getting into stocks.

What other activities fill your non-painting time?

I like investing. I like horse races. I’m kind of a professional drinker. I make my way to art openings and events. I’m always repairing my car.

Wyatt Mills, Voices - Oil on Paper, 38x inches

What do you think of the new Mirus Gallery?

It’s a great space. I like how the work was able to breath. Each piece had its own space. I hate salon style where you can’t enjoy each piece. Liquor was readily available. Everyone that works there is very personable and amazing.

Something about you most people don’t know. Quirky traits? Daily rituals?

I’m kind of a “burrito-tarian.” I don’t think people understand the amount of food that’s wasted by not being wrapped up in a burrito. I pretty much only eat burritos and I like to save them for later. Three days go by and I was like, Did I only eat burritos? I should make a label for that. I should make a cause behind it. And justify this somehow.

Wyatt Mills, Daisy - Oil on Canvas, 84x72 inches

Ambiguities opens at Mirus Gallery Denver Saturday August 4th.  The show runs through September 1st, 2018 and is free and open to the public.  For more information please contact [email protected]

Interview composed by Corinne Trujillo

Mirus Gallery