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Russell Mills: Paintings In Sound

By Published: November 3, 2005
RM: It is not just his work that has inspired and informed me but it is his whole attitude to life as a creative person. He saw no distinction between his work and his life, both were conjoined, they were inseparable. I feel the same. Many of his works and more crucially, his writings about art and the collage principle are extremely visionary, suggesting forms and approaches that only now, with current technologies, are being explored. Subjectively his work is poetically beautiful and inspiring, especially if one considers the context of the times he was living in and the tragic circumstances of his life. To really explain his importance and his immense influence on me and on countless artists, writers, musicians and thinkers since his death in 1948 would require me to write a book!

AAJ: The artwork you do is really unique in every sense. It is not only visually inspiring but one can feel the uniqueness and the depth of it. Please, explain how you work with musicians/writers to create album/book cover art. What sort of qualities do you look for before deciding to work with someone?

RM: If possible, if time allows it, I try to live with the music or the book I've been asked to respond to for quite a long time, in order to thoroughly digest what's at the core of the work. I also try to meet and talk with the writer or musicians involved and if that isn't physically possible I communicate by phone, e-mail or letter. I'm very conscious that whilst I want to produce something that is relevant yet oblique I must also produce a work that the author or musician is happy with, after all they have maybe spent years on this.

The cover is the frontline for the public, it is the visual interface between the richness of the music or the words and the public's potential enjoyment of it. I also undergo a period of intense reading and research into a myriad of subjects that may or may not connect and which, thankfully occasionally lead me to areas of interest that allow me to bypass the literal. Essentially I try to find the essence of the music or the book, the undertow that is the work's engine, rather than a literal reading of the obvious.

AAJ: It's easy to see that your work is not only aesthetically pleasing, but that it does convey a sense of exploration. What sort of thought goes into your work? Can you describe your creative process, how you come up with your ideas?

RM: The ideas are triggered by many initially apparently divergent ideas, which somehow collude contextually to suggest new territories of the possible. As I'm constantly reading and undertaking a lot of research towards my work, I discover countless tangential routes and ideas that trigger alternative ways of looking at the world. As you suggest, it is a kind of exploration. I'm always seeking metaphors, analogies and visual simile to bypass the obvious, to suggest rather than describe.

I believe the work should be contextually anchored, conceptually rooted and not merely gratuitous. I believe very much in William Wordsworth's imperative that nature should provide analogies for the human mind and soul; it is in observing nature's endless flux and chaotic order that I find directions that fuel my creative energies. I live in the English Lake District surrounded by hills, mountains, lakes, rivers and wildlife; every day, every minute, every second brings wondrous changes.

AAJ: Do you think cover art adds anything to the music when it's released?

RM: Yes I do. When cover art is successful it adds to and complements the essential mood of the CD and also conveys something inexplicable about the music itself. I also believe that people, buyers of CDs relate very strongly to cover art and design. The same applies with book covers and in fact most other items that are made commercially available—cultural, practical or decorative. Good design and a thoughtful approach to imagery can convey much to a perceiver that words alone cannot do. As I mentioned above the cover art and design is the frontline to a potential audience, if it doesn't appeal, seduce or arrest then it doesn't succeed.

AAJ: The dedication to your art is truly impressive and beside book/CD covers you also work on art installations. Can you tell me a bit more about this type of work? How did you get interested in sound art?

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