WHEREABOUTS is a series of blog posts by VIATOR contributors around the world describing the spaces and places that have inspired their work.
My work starts with the idea of home – almost always the home I grew up in in South Carolina, often blended with imagery of homes since. I am interested in making art that captures the feeling of place. I create spaces that are personal and intimate, suggestive of memory, and overflowing with ornamental pattern.
I begin my process by collecting. I cut out figures, domestic details and scenery that I find compelling – moments in print that catch my eye because they are strange or funny or unsettling or very big or very small or simply just beautiful. I blend worn personal photos from family albums with quirky scenes from vintage magazines. When a collage composition feels right, I like to go back in with painting and drawing to further embellish the space. After I leave the studio, I am often still mining for collage, scanning the city for interesting or abandoned objects that I can incorporate into the work.
Fort, featured in Viator No.2, is a collage on paper built as a shrine to the memory of my favorite childhood hideout. My brother and I built this fort after a large tree fell on the edge of our grassy backyard leading out to a small patch of woods. When the tree fell it created the pile of vines and branches that was to become our secret shelter from the rest of the world. The best part of the fort was that we each found a designated branch of the tree to be our personal ‘chair.’ These seats were like our thrones, and we spent hours perched up in them, watching over our imaginary kingdom. My favorite moments in the collage are, of course, the two representative green chairs that are hidden within the organic confusion.
When my dad found us playing back there after a few days he was worried. He deemed the fort unsafe and able to collapse at any minute, apologized genuinely, and cleared out the rest of the vines. I think my dad still feels a little guilt about it, but the short-lived nature the fort has created an even stronger myth for my brother and me. We really believe in the absolute perfection and harmony of that space and time, still very much alive in both of our memories today.
Another piece of mine featured in Viator No. 2 is Aunt Alma’s. This collage on canvas is based on another sacred space in my memory: Thanksgiving Day at my great aunt’s house, a tradition I attended for the first 22 years of my life. It is made with photos I took of her house on our last Thanksgiving there, which I then edited digitally to enhance color and detail. Her old house is magic to me, especially because I don’t see it often anymore, and I wanted to convey its intrigue with the strange symmetrical architecture I used to build the collage. Mother’s Kitchen, with a similar palette, was made right after Aunt Alma’s. Here I am considering similar themes: the excitement of being a small child in a bustling kitchen as a special occasion drew near, the melancholic knowledge that family traditions won’t last forever, a sense of belonging and a warm honor toward the generations of women in my family.
More recently I have tried to hone in on the specific feeling of narrative that I bring to these spaces. The resulting body of work is Little Boxes, my MFA thesis installation at American University. I imaged that each separate collage in this installation might operate like a bright detail remembered from an otherwise confusing dream, or a room in a house that you walked through a long time ago but can barely recall. These vague snapshots are then strung together to tell a story, but the story is a disjointed and confusing one. I wanted to make each home or room seem inviting, but also with an ominous feel that you can’t quite put your finger on. I then wanted to counter this sense of underlying darkness with moments of humor and surprise.
Finally, with this recent work, I have incorporated more three-dimensional elements, examining the physical capabilities of collage to actually become the domestic spaces I imagine. I want to blur the boundaries between object and image, with the intention of creating spaces that are totally uncanny, yet still somehow plausible. I thought about the traditional notion of an image on a museum wall as a window into a new world, and I had fun taking this idea literally in many of the pieces.
For now I am continuing to work in my studio with the goals of narrative and sculptural space in mind, always honoring the homes that have inspired me, and finding wonder in the strange intricacies of the spaces we inhabit.
See more of what's next on my instagram (@mills_brown_) or my website (www.millsbrownart.com)!
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