Wyatt Mills talks about society and his art

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When I first encountered New York/LA Artist Wyatt Mills’ work, I was showing my art next door to him at the Brewery Arts Complex’s Annual Art Walk. I was immediately struck by the controlled chaos that dominates his work.

He has a show coming up on Friday at Essntl Gallery LA at Bergamot Station, Saturday, March 8 from 6-9pm. I visited his studio and interviewed him about his work and here’s what he had to say.

The studio loft of Wyatt Mills (Photo by Cat Doss)
The studio loft of Wyatt Mills
(Photo by Cat Doss)

Cat Doss: How did you first get into doing art?

Wyatt Mills: I joined an art class when I was 8 because a girl I had a crush on was in it. It became the first thing I could see myself doing for a living.

CD: So, I know you’ve spent a lot of time going back and forth between New York and Los Angeles. Most recently, you returned from a four-year expedition to NYC. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

WM: I was born in New York then raised in Los Angeles. Now returning from a four-year adventure in NY made me realize how much I’ve changed. Living in Brooklyn and frequenting Chelsea opened my eyes a lot in terms of the art world and my own work.

(Photo by Cat Doss)
(Photo by Cat Doss)

I experienced a lot over there and met some of the most inspiring people I know. I get sour after staying in one place too long, so the subways were slowly becoming rivers of sadness that funneled me to my extremely expensive coffin-shaped apartment.

I always find it funny how much people bicker about LA or New York being better, as if there’s nowhere else in the world. I love them both for different reasons. I still miss the city energy in New York, but LA offers me the space I need to make work right now.

I kept pinching myself once I secured a loft out here since I’ve had dreams of having this much space to create. I’m still adapting to normal weather and I miss and respect so many people I’ve met in New York. For now, though, I’m focusing on painting as much as I can and evolving my work out here.

CD: Tell me about your upcoming show.

Click on it for larger version
Click on it for larger version
(Photo by Cat Doss)
(Photo by Cat Doss)

WM: My next show is titled Phantasmagoria. For those who don’t know the definition of Phantasmagoria, it is essentially a flickering sequence of images and scenery as seen in a dream. This word would pop in my head whenever I stared up at a TV in a restaurant or bar and most commercials are by themselves very similar to a fast-paced dream.

And then I realized how hard it is to also pay attention to the bartender right in front of my face. The combination of the screens feeding us information while our physical realities are unfolding in front of us is almost like two separate realities competing over each other’s attention.

The disturbing part is we are ready to believe anything on a screen that someone in a suit says even if the person next to us in real life says otherwise. So a lot of my new work has been about examining this overstimulation we now constantly face as a society and how it affects us.

CD: That’s pretty amazing.

WM: We have this addiction to escape our real-world reality and go off into another world; which is perfectly fine; I’m not saying going to a movie every once in a while is going to do anything, but now we can’t even focus on the escape. I mean, people can’t even focus on the movie because they are on their phones. It’s this exponentially growing hole of the digital invading our physical.

(Photo by Cat Doss)
(Photo by Cat Doss)

If there’s an amazingly vivid sunset or a surprisingly entertaining street performance, our first reaction is to immediately pull out our phone and look at it through a lens. It’s so hard for young people today to enjoy something with their own eyes and ears.

CD: How do you think that’s going to affect us in the long-term?

WM: Well I think since the par of stimulation from a television show or even a mediocre advertisement is raised so high, we want to keep our brains in that state. I see less and less people reading because it isn’t an instant satisfaction. It’s something that takes time for its reward. But any good reward takes time and effort, and I think we are becoming more accustomed to mediocre rewards of maybe a half chuckle from a funny video laugh or a second of thought from an inspiring quote. So when something is actually shocking or insane, we gather like flies because we want to be stimulated.

The work in this show plays a lot with news stories, gossip magazines, and old found propaganda. Television news has found a perfect balance of harnessing our attention and also our trust. The trust is more what I am concerned about. If we see a picture with a sentence written below it in the paper, we believe it without having to second-guess or witness it in physical reality. We weren’t there; how can we really know? By juxtaposing different overly dramatic news titles next to overly dramatic celebrity gossip, my hope is to defame the authority of their influence on us. We should question things more as a society.

Prisoner (Photo by Cat Doss)
(Photo by Cat Doss)

CD: Can you tell me some artists whose work has influenced you?

WM: I try to take a little bit of everything and combine it together while inserting my own voice. I love Francis Bacon’s approach of forgetting the effort to make a perfect picture and just surrendering to nothingness and throwing paint and attacking the canvas without thought. But then, after some of that, I will think of Max Ernst saying something like “an artist must keep one eye open to the world around them, and one eye closed to the world inside them.”

So I find my process switching people like Bacon, Basquiat, and Pollock to Lucien Freud, Dali, Neo Rauch, Otto Dix type of thought mixture. This means a lot of destroying and rebuilding.

(Photo by Cat Doss)
(Photo by Cat Doss)

CD: That seems to be a common theme in your work.

WM: There’s always a lot of opportunity that comes out of destruction. Seems to be a common theme in revolutions as well or the Big Bang. I think it’s something built into us.

CD: Can you tell me a bit about your self-portrait? I noticed it wasn’t up for sale. How old were you when you painted it?

Self Portrait (Photo by Cat Doss)
Self Portrait
(Photo by Cat Doss)

WM: That thing … I think I painted it freshman year of college from a picture someone took of me waddling around in a belly-shirt. Those were strange times. I was getting criticism for painting a lot of nude women at the time, and one angry classmate called me a misogynist. Therefore, I decided to make a self-portrait and objectify myself as terribly as I possible could to prove to them it was myself that was the problem, not shapely beautiful women.

It actually was one of my first pieces trying out mixed media when I was trying to paste some greasy buffalo wing ads into my stomach. Needless to say, it opened a few roads for my process.

CD: Nice. I think you can definitely pull off the belly shirt.

WM: Thanks! Although passing years may have changed that.

CD: Well, thanks for doing the interview, Wyatt!

WM: Thanks for taking time to come by the studio. Hopefully I can go back to painting rainbows and unicorns once we stop flirting with extinction.

(All photos by Cat Doss, unless otherwise noted and you can view larger versions by clicking on each photo)