ARTIST INTERVIEW- Mills Brown
Mills Brown (b. 1993) is an American painter based in Oxford, UK. Featuring intimate interiors and swampy landscapes, Brown's work places female figures within dreamlike renderings of the landscape. Mills holds an MFA in Studio Art from American University (2017) and a BA in English and Art History from Wofford College (2015).
Could you introduce yourself and your practice?
My name is Mills Brown. I’m an American visual artist based in Oxford, UK. My recent paintings feature feminine figures communing with the land and practicing quiet but radical acts of self-love. Through these portraits I consider bodily autonomy, collective grief, finding safety, and embodiment as a form of resistance. My studio practice has roots in my childhood in the American South and a long-standing fascination with stories and myths. I’m influenced by the Southern Gothic literary tradition and particularly its use of the supernatural and uncanny.
Can you talk a bit about your creative process and the mediums you work with?
My predominant medium right now is acrylic painting. My compositions often begin with a photo, a memory, or a dream narrative. I use Procreate to create a digital sketch and colour map, and then I get to work on canvas. While I like to have an idea of the composition and palette when I begin, I allow the painting process to be fluid, and I often find the scene changing quite dramatically from what I originally envisioned. I start with a bold neon underpainting and then layer with semi-translucent washes of paint, adding more intricate detail as I go. I use paint pens, coloured pencils, or small collage pieces to add the final embellishments to a piece.
‘Beside Still Waters’ is a really interesting title, what was the inspiration behind this piece?
The title is a reference to Psalm 23: “He leads me beside still waters…” However here it is the semi translucent yellow figure, a feminine spirit which may represent an inner-self, that leads the other to water, a place of stillness and tranquility. The figurative pair in this painting explore the idea that any guide we may need is already within.
I moved to the UK one year ago and my work has been transformed by the new experience of season and landscape here — both the long-light of summer days and the unfamiliar darkness of winter. This summer I fell in love with Oxford’s hollyhocks and a secret swimming spot in Music Meadow, which are both referenced in this painting.
My paintings with two similar figures are also about conflict and resolution within the self. Recently I’ve been interested in the Jungian concept of an unconscious shadow-self. The shadow is often characterised as dark and undesirable, but through the process of discovering and accepting her, one might be illumined and made whole. I think of my double-sided figures as representing a journey towards wholeness.
Do you have any personal symbols within your visual language?
There are certain motifs that I like to use again and again. Many of these reference the wildlife of the American South: tree frogs, wasps, Copperhead snakes, Magnolia blossoms, Wisteria vines, alligator teeth, Spanish moss, swampy water, and Cyprus trees with knobby roots. I also frequently depict a glowing orb, a double-sided self, shallow pools of water, wide wooden porches, and women in vibrantly patterned clothing. Finally, some of my personal symbols recall my favourite fairytales from childhood: Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel, Snow White. I am drawn toward imagery that feels like the stories I love to read.
What is your workspace like, what are your studio essentials?
I work at home in Oxford. My space is very small, but very cozy, with one large wall on which I rotate paintings as I work on them, and big windows that fill the space with good light. While I’d love to have a larger studio one day soon, I love the ease and spontaneity of working from home, in my pyjamas, anytime the mood strikes. While I work I need a good playlist. My go-to artists are Fiona Apple, James Blake, Bon Iver, and Billie Holiday.
Lastly, who are some of your favourite contemporary artists at the moment?
I absolutely love the figurative work of Nadia Waheed: the vivid color, psychological depth, and storytelling. Some other favorite contemporary artists are Jordan Casteel, Annan Affotey, Ruprecht von Kaufmann, Seline Burn, Njideka Crosby, Robin F. Williams, Fabian Treiber, Arcmanoro Niles and Caroline Absher - all masters of figurative and atmospheric compositions!