Russ Mills y’all! We’ve only featured him on two separate occasions. No big deal. And now we’ve got an interview for you. His candor on society, modern marketing and the conveyance of ideas is refreshing, his discussion intriguing. Read it for yourself.
Tell us about yourself, where are you from? What are you about?
I’m Russ Mills, I was born in Devon, UK, grew up round Brighton, subsequently returned to Devon. I do graphically twisted portraiture, mainly of females, in a variety of media, but, most often with pen and computer.
How did your show ‘Always the Son’ at Red Propeller go? What pieces did you show? How were they received? How has the reception of your pieces or the audience response changed since your first show?
‘Always the Son’ was a couple of years ago now, it was the most varied show I’ve done, I threw little bit of everything into the pot for that one. The trophy work was a series of large portraits of layered collage and paint, with ambiguous found objects adding to the confusion. I also included drawings of a totally different style to give the impression of a second person being involved in the show. I think people’s preconceptions may have alienated them from the more experimental work, though all the unrecognisable pieces found new homes.
Response to anything I do is nearly always more amazing than I could possibly wish for. I’ve lived through some very dark times, so it is satisfaction enough to complete the work, selling any of it takes that one step beyond.
When you make an error on a piece, a line you don’t like as much or otherwise, how do you correct it? How do you respond emotionally?
When I’m working on the computer, I simply press ctrl+z. However when I’m working on a drawing or anything bigger and more liquid I just leave it in. A huge proportion of my work is the product of serendipity, even the digital stuff, most of the accidental marks stay right where they are. I try not to labor over pieces for too long as my patience threshold is fairly low, frustration sets in quickly if stuff doesn’t look right, starting again is the best cure for that.
Much of your work has faces, do you have particular sources of inspiration?
I take inspiration from all over, that inspiration often changes from interview to interview. I can’t define the look that I’m searching for simply, I’m usually looking for an overtone of contempt. Artist wise I often fall back to the same people. Ralph Steadman, Rauschenberg, Pollock, laterly Bill Sienkiewicz and other graphic masters.
Tell us about ‘Ten to Doomsday’. Where you emotionally for the piece?
That one was a fairly nonchalant look at the end of the world, I tried to inject the feeling that nothing is that important in the huge chasm of space and time, attempting to keep the references as subtle as possible so as not to alienate or upset. Most of my subjects have a fairly dismissive expression, there’s usually an overtone of sadness and negativity, coupled with a slither of optimism.
What do you think the most emotive part of the face is? You employ both eyes and lips to achieve a great deal of expression, do you think other parts of the face can be equally profound? Why or why not?
In a young face female face the eyes are the most obvious point of reference and will often determine the success of the piece. As a face ages the rest of the features become so much more important in an artistic sense. The skin in a young face is pure tone, however, in an aged, furrowed face, the skin takes on new life as a mountainous region of possibilities. Much more skill is required to do justice to the latter.
Your bio mentions that your current work is a clash of styles from classical to pop surrealism, what elements of different styles have you taken and why?
Sadly the product of a poorly written Bio, they are terms of convenience to give a point of reference for something I’m unable to adequately describe. A more honest response would be, my work involves some sense and some nonsense. I like to balance out what people can identify with, with something that confuses them. I also find it helps me to have something recognisable to bounce off, when adding what is essential mess. Time to write a less ambiguous bio then.
Do you find the term ‘pop surrealism’ to be a somewhat redundant paring of terms? Do you think popular culture is couched in the concrete, the real, or is it a sort of fantastic world of it’s own?
That’s purely a buzzword terminology, not so cleverly used, to espouse a vague feeling of belonging to a particular mode of thinking, it implies a dumbing down of terms that may have once had some meaning. I’m fairly ashamed for applying it to what I do.
Aspects of popular culture are expressions of pure fantasy, a healthy escapism that harms no-one and indulges both viewer and creator. Sadly the folk in suits no all about this and use the same methodology to their advantage.
How do you think today’s culture addresses, caters to or eschews superficiality? Is this a good or bad thing? Are we isolated through our current culture? How can we overcome such isolation, or should we?
If culture in this sense is defined by some kind of product marketing, It’s nothing but superficiality, projection of the ego etc. The packaging is far more important than the content. It’s a terrible thing, however, it won’t be changing anytime soon, it works and makes the right people, within the cultural apparatus very rich.
I think we are isolated through such a huge spectrum of choice, identifying one’s self with a particular collection of objects or brands, only develops the ego and not the self, that’s exactly as it’s intended to be. None of this is accidental.
Sadly none of us will overcome this isolation until the way things work changes. People need to learn to disregard what they are having screamed at them 24 hours a day. By doing this it often leads to being even more isolated, as you wander further from the flock, you do attain a clearer understanding of who you are though.
When you think about culture today, how it has changed since you were young, do you think that we have progressed or regressed? Do you think that is even quantifiable? What do you loathe about current culture? What do you love? How are these contradicting feelings portrayed in your work?
Western culture today is a far more complicated animal than when I was growing up, the same basic methods of dispensing existed, though they had not yet been refined to the extent they are now. Today any conceivable message can be conveyed in any medium in the shortest possible time, sometimes with the maximum impact if the right people are involved. Culture is often the product of a marketing decision, delivered to the correct demographic. There’s been no progression in popular culture since it was devised, every last circumstance has been reused, repackaged or regurgitated to a point where it’s reaching terminal velocity. It’s nearly impossible to quantify in a paragraph, however it’s something that I would love to get to the bottom of some day.
I’ve gone past the point of loathing or loving, trying to ignore as much as possible is priority. I’ve realised the futility of trying to impose a particular view point on people, with regard to music, art, film etc. When that point of view has already become outdated or convoluted by another.
Trying to convey such complexity in my work has been something I’ve attempted to tackle, but, most often been frustrated by. The noise and ephemeral mess in my pictures is as close as I have come to making sense of it. This is often of little importance to the viewer.
What are you currently working on? Can you tell us about your dream project?
I’m working on some bits for a group show at Red Propeller, beginning of October, there will be some degree of departure for this one, less random mark making and more careful consideration. My dream project has already come to pass, the very act of putting on a show that more than one person attended has already been accomplished. I don’t aspire to any particular pinnacle of greatness, I leave that to psychotic legacy manufacturers. To remain happy in what I do is the absolute dream project, some bigger shows would be nice, but not the be all and end all.
What is your dream car?
One that runs on rain, air and hatred.