Now Featuring Kristofer Mills

Even though he’s clearly got it together, Kristofer Mills makes work that blindly pushes ahead, searching for gaps, omissions and failed experiments to push his drawings and collages from one iteration to the next.  Using simple materials and focusing of process over results, his images carry the viewer along a continuum where the origin and destination are hidden, and instead we see glimpses of what Mills sees and does along the way.

To view the full collection of prints: Go Here

Exclusive Print 1

Exclusive Print 2

Exclusive Print 3

Exclusive Print 4

Exclusive Print 5

MH: Your drawings and collages strike me as being about the process of making marks and making cuts as much as anything else I might associate with the resulting images.  Can you talk about your process and what informs it?

KM: There is no doubt that it is the process that drives my studio practice.  I view my approach to all media as experimental in that I prefer to work through a set of strategies with no expectations of the eventual outcome. This allows me to treat all source material as information.  I gather this data randomly, from a variety of sources (magazines, records, tapes, films, photographs, even my own drawings), but I am generally drawn to the oblique, the peripheral, mistakes, and/or things that are left over.   My studio is this absurd laboratory where the experiments lack hypothesis and the results get recycled into new experiments.   I create rules and restrictions to push against, but I find that the most interesting things happen when I get out of the way and allow the elements to arrange themselves.

I have always made music in my spare time, but never considered it a serious part of my practice until recently.  In the last couple of years my experiments with sound have started to inform and complement my visual practice.  The effect has been like a feedback loop. The soundtracks generate ideas for drawings and paintings while the collages and drawings inspire new ways to organize sound. As a result, both have become more abstract.  In many ways I am treating the organization of sounds spatially and the organization of visual elements musically.  Exploring the methodologies of experimental music has allowed me to think more in terms of systems, structures, relationships, and the logic of chance as opposed to narrative or what the image represents.

What interests me most is that moment of spontaneous transformation.  How does an image come into being? I like to think that I am designing situations where something unexpected could happen.

MH: How do you look for spontaneity in the studio?  What kind of conditions do you set up?

KM: I often have several projects going at any given time.  When I get stuck on something, I put it aside and move on to something else.  Usually the next drawing/ collage/ painting/ soundtrack provides a solution.  I might mix a batch of color for one painting and decide to use it on another instead.  Sometimes I will transpose discrete elements from one work into another.  The sound collage/composition helps to provide suggestions for configurations.  My studio is one room divided into a 3 workspaces, so I can move easily from sound to drawing to the computer without losing momentum.  This has definitely had an effect on my methods.

MH: How do you choose your materials, especially the “artists’” materials? I’m curious what I’m seeing (paint/graphite/charcoal and so on) and how you select it… Some things, like graphite, can be so spontaneous and with other things, like oil, seem like you might have to push against the “slow” properties of the media.

KM: My choice of materials is often initially guided by circumstance. I enjoy working within the restrictions the situation provides.  My last few years in Charleston I had a very small, narrow studio at Redux.  I was also very poor, so, in response, I focused on making very intimate works on paper using supplies that other people had left behind.

When I moved, I left my supplies behind and started over with a can of gesso, some pencils, and a stick of graphite.  Working on paper with the graphite and gesso I could change things very quickly.  The act of making marks and erasure took on equal weight.  I could scrape into the wet surface with a pencil or draw directly with the gesso.  My ideas of positive and negative space were turned upside down.  I was also able to cut up drawings that weren’t working and recycle the scraps into other drawings.

In response to this experience I started thinking more about collage.  When I started cutting from magazines, I would remove the object of focus (the model/s or product), any logos or text, and work with what was left over.  I also discovered that  I could cut away part of the image and layer them on top of other scraps, using the cut out to frame a texture.  These would then become the blueprint for a painting.  When I started to paint them I could make subtle adjustments to the shapes, try different color combinations, and add or subtract elements.  I now paint on panels so that I can mask off the different sections and work with each individually.  This has introduced a new element of chance in that the structure is in place, but I can’t see exactly how the parts work together as a whole as they are built.

MH: Can you talk about your work with sound?  I’m interested in the role of collaboration in this work, both between you and James Sterling Pitt, and also between the two of you and the authors of the discarded records you used for the RRP: untitled, 03/02/2012 project.

KM: Collaboration is something that I have always been interested in and music is often where I have found it.  Sound seems to naturally provide a level playing field that collaborations in visual art struggle to find.  Working in this way reveals habitual, unconscious reactions and forces you to step outside yourself in surprising ways.  Obstacles inevitably arise, but the collaborative effort often produces wonderfully unexpected solutions.

RPP (Recovered Records Project) grew out of a discussion that James and I had over a year ago.  We were both interested in the possibilities of discarded media as raw material.  This appealed to each of us in different ways.  It related to my practice of restricting myself to materials that are left over, peripheral, or generally considered undesirable/unimportant.  I can’t speak for him, but I think James was drawn to the tactile qualities of the album as a medium, and its relationship to ideas he is investigating related to memory and synchronicity.  We both share a love for the serendipitous intervention of the marks of time on a well loved cardboard cover and how, by chance, the selection of one record could lead to the next.

We went to a small thrift store in Montara where I knew a woman in possession of a garage full of records she was unable to sell.  We sifted through over 100 records together, choosing LPs that resonated with us both personally and collectively. We limited ourselves to 20 records, many of which we had never encountered or heard before.  Our plan was to manipulate these forgotten or unwanted records both physically and digitally (through sampling, looping, and layering) to shape a new soundtrack.  We recorded and compiled the 47 minute track over the course of the day, working through the stack of LPs using the same method we had employed in choosing them.  The title of a song, the artwork on the album, a lyric, a texture or feeling helped direct the process of sampling and manipulation.

Working with James is effortless and fun.  He brings a sensibility that I could never replicate on my own.  There is a feeling of intimacy and a sense of the sublime in everything he makes that I really admire.  It complements and informs my obsession with structures and systems.  He is also good at forcing me to simplify things, make decisions, and keep moving.

MH: Interesting what you say about music and collaboration… I used to find that the best conversations I’ve had about drawing were actually with jazz musicians who could relate to the idea of improvising. How do you relate the idea of improvisation in the studio? It sounds like your interest in chance and mistakes relate.

KM: Improvisation for me is directly related to repetition.  I like to extract a shape or structure from a source and draw it over and over again; each time adding, subtracting, or distorting something within the structure.  Sometimes I work blindly from one variation to the next. By leaving the source behind, this accumulation of “mistakes” directs the evolution of the image.  Other times I will draw the phrase repeatedly on the same surface, using a swipe of thickened gesso to partially obscure the previous iteration.  This allows me to focus less on the composition of the image and more on experimenting with the quality and feeling of the lines.  The process can produce unexpected intersections between the layers that I can then use to start another drawing.  In both instances, the parallels to jazz and the blues are definitely there.  There is a basic structure to push against (a melody or chord progression), the role of the musician is to find an interesting way to play between the notes.  Through repetition you really get to know the structure you are working with which creates this intuitive space where you can relax the analytical side of your brain and just react.

MH: You are a founding member of Redux Contemporary Art Center in Charleston and now work at as the Resident Program Manager at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program. How does you work in arts administration influence and inform your studio work, and vice versa?

KM: I’m not sure how my work as an arts administrator directly informs my studio work, but it has provided an opportunity for me to play an active role in my community.  I feel that it is our obligation as artists to contribute in some meaningful way to supporting one another.  I never aspired to become an arts administrator.  The occupation found me.

When we started planning Redux in 2002 we simply saw need in our city for a space that could unite the creative community and support emerging artists.  My work with the Djerassi Resident Artists Program has allowed me to continue that mission, supporting artists of all disciplines.  At Djerassi, we create the time and space for artists to escape the pressures of their careers and lives and really focus on their process.  The experience can be profoundly transformative.  Living and working among the residents has shown me, though our tools may differ, we share many of the same strategies when navigating the creative act.   On a certain level, the process is the same.

Over the last 10 years I have learned a lot about development, marketing, and the operational aspects of the non-profit world.  Many artists never get to understand how the system works from the inside.  It is an interesting challenge to balance working on both sides of the fence, but I think being an artist allows me a valuable perspective in the field.

The most rewarding part of my day job has been the friendships that I have been able to cultivate with other artists. I have met so many incredible people over the years.  These relationships continue to educate and inspire me.

MH: Who are some of the artists whose work you’re currently looking at?  Who are some of your all time big influences?

KM: Richard Tuttle, Hans Jean Arp, Elsworth Kelly, Jockum Nordstrom, Fischli & Weiss, Bruce Nauman, Harry Smith, Forrest Bess, Dieter Roth, and Franz West have been on heavy rotation.    If I find myself in a museum I am always on the lookout for works by Joseph Beuys, Marcel Duchamp, Sol Lewitt, Philip Guston, or Giorgio Morandi.

Lately I have been doing a lot of research related to experimental music theory and composition, graphic scores, DIY electronics, and cybernetics that I find very stimulating.  At this point, I am pulling equally from both music and visual art to find my way in the studio.

I am constantly listening to music, but am particularly inspired by Black Dice, Kraftwerk, Nurse with wound, Brian Eno, Boredoms, Zoviet France, Morton Feldman, Oneohtrix Point Never, Kluster, La Monte Young, Grouper, The Caretaker, Albert Ayler, Anthony Braxton, John Zorn, Moondog…the list goes on and on.

MH: What kinds of projects do you have coming up on the horizon? In music? In the studio?

KM: I am working on a music collaboration right now with Joshua Churchill scheduled for later this year.  Its a two part composition for electronics that will be simulcast live from two stations in the bay area.  I’m also in the process of curating a series of noise gatherings for artists/musicians to explore sound and improvisation at my studio in Woodside that will hopefully yield some interesting recordings.  And I will have some zines at the Brooklyn zine fair in November.

1 comment

1 Kristofer MillsNo Gravatar { 06.01.12 at 9:37 pm }

To hear RRP, untitled 03/02/2012 go to:
http://soundcloud.com/nosafeplace/rrp-untitled-03-02-2012

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