Russell Mills: Paintings In Sound
AAJ: You have worked with so many people with different backgrounds. What are some of the misconceptions about what you do and who you work with?
RM: I work in multimedia site-specific installation, painting and assemblage, collage, design for print and for stage, and with sound and film. The mediums and the tools employed are used appropriately, contextually and conceptually. All of these activities feed and inspire one another. I see no distinction between them other than the tools used, which are merely a means to an end; the work is not about itself nor is it about the tools used in its making.
In England more so than elsewhere, the most commonly held response I receive is more concerned with the multi-disciplinarian approach I have rather than the work itself. The fact that I work in diverse mediums in and across multiple genres and barriers is generally frowned upon. To work across so many boundaries is seen as a dissipation of one's talents or energies and is therefore considered to be suspicious. The term "amateur" or "dabbler" tends to be aimed at people who do more than one thing. I believe this to be a relatively recent and particularly English trait. From the Renaissance of Leonardo da Vinci up until several decades after the Second World War with artists such as Duchamp and Schwitters, artists have expressed themselves in a myriad of areas from painting to poster design, from sculpture to furniture.
Artists applied themselves to whatever excited their curiosity. More recently however there has been a perverse reversal in this ethos. Pressure from critics, teachers and the institutionalized bureaucracy within art colleges for artists to specialize, to become known for one way of working, for polishing one style, has become the accepted norm. Conversely in Europe, America and Japan I do not perceive a problem with people's perceptions of artists who work in many areas of creativity, in fact this diversity is celebrated, supported and expected, as it was in the Renaissance.
AAJ: Ian Walton is someone that you've been working with for a long time. What has your relationship with Ian Walton, both personal and professional, been like?
RM: I've known Ian since 1969. We met at Canterbury College of Art where Ian was in his first year of a Fine Art course and I was in my Foundation Year, one year below him. He is essentially a painter through and through, full of conviction and commitment. His work is process driven, tactile and organic. As a friend we share many common ideals, aspirations, inspirations and approaches to art, we also enjoy word play and laughter.
Our tastes coincide on just about everything. In our collaborative work we operate almost as two sides of a coin, with my role as being to research and formulate the ideas and Ian's as a barometer or a force that grounds the ideas. If I propose ideas that are too highly wrought with intellectual weight, Ian will question them so as to oblige us both to strip everything down to an essence. Incrementally the ideas ricochet between us until something emerges that as individuals we would never have thought of. There is a strange chemistry between us, which doesn't rely on endless dialogues, we understand each other without the need for verbal exchange like a sixth sense.
AAJ: What are the things that you look for in your art? I find it both very intriguing and seductive at the same time.
RM: I think I aspire to either an art that seduces or arrests, reliant on inspiring questions rather than shock tactics. I'm for an approach that is subtle, nuanced and oblique rather than didactic or propagandist, an approach that acts like perfume, which drifts around corners, slips under doors and lingers, its effect takes time to unfold.
AAJ: Who are some of the contemporary artists that you admire?