Wyatt Mills: Normal
Project Gallery, Los Angeles
January 9 - March 6, 2016
By SHANA NYS DAMBROT, FEB. 2016
Wyatt Mills is at 25 technically still a young artist; but bravado and maturity beyond his years are the order of the day in the raw, raucous, confident body of new oil and mixed media works on canvas at Chinatown’s Project Gallery, which he is simply calling “Normal.”
Mills is some ways very much a product of his background and the hybrid, slightly lawless zeitgeist of his generation. A graduate of SVA who has always been focused on his fine art painting practice, he nevertheless has, like so many of his contemporaries, been inspired to experiment in the new street art movement, attracted to its scale and impact and interested in how fine art could inform it and, perhaps more so, vice versa. Though showing studio paintings in galleries on the regular on both coasts, he became known early on in his adopted hometown of LA through an exuberant, instantly recognizable, and totally unique approach to outdoor murals and integrated interior wall works. While his adventures in street art incorporate art historically high-concept visual tropes of layered abstraction, gestural color, distressed pattern, and mannerist imagery, his studio practice in turn incorporates the brash scale and visually arresting street style into ideas executed on the proverbial easel. References to popular culture animate the canvas in the form of thickly collaged found materials augmenting the tight, dense, approach he calls “feral anti-minimalism” as he moves between visceral public experience and meaningful personal narrative.
Not only as a matter of genre, but also as a matter of his individual style, Mills is comfortable with conflicting impulses and a patois of visual languages. The basic formula starts with a conventional format (a straightforward portrait, a person in a room doing something mundane like cooking, reading, getting a haircut) and then Mills just fucks it up in every way he can. Forced perspectives, hallucinatory picture planes, distressed surfaces, and palimpsestic abstraction, interact with anatomical features made strange by grotesque deconstruction that manifests as peeling impasto skin or exposed bone structure but seems to speak to emotional rather than physical damage or violence. Mills possesses a sophisticated control of what could be unwieldy nuance as well as a knack for translating emotion into concrete form with both power and ambivalence, balancing urgency with strategy in hyper-intelligent compositions, and courting chaos without ever getting messy. So while on the one hand, “Normal” represents a departure for Mills, on the other, it speaks to a stylistic continuum that transcends labels as a matter of course. For Mills and his paradigm-shifting generation, all this refractive cross-idiomatic evolution is just, well, normal. WM
Shana Nys Dambrot is an art critic, curator, and author based in Downtown LA. She is the Arts Editor for the LA Weekly, and a contributor to Whitehot Magazine, KCET’s Artbound, Flaunt, Fabrik, Art and Cake, Artillery, Palm Springs Life, Riot Material, West Hollywood Lifestyle, Jenkem, and Porter & Sail. She studied Art History at Vassar College, writes essays for books and exhibition catalogs, curates and juries a few exhibitions each year, is a dedicated Instagram photographer and author of experimental short fiction, and speaks at galleries, schools, and cultural institutions nationally. She sits on the Boards of Art Share-LA and the Venice Institute of Contemporary Art, the Advisory Council of Building Bridges Art Exchange, and the Brain Trust of Some Serious Business.
Photo of Shana Nys Dambrot by Osceola Refetoff
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