With the constant barrage of information and imagery from the technological devices we now feel lost without and the social media platforms that provide a constant stream of distraction, it is rare to come across something that really grabs and holds our attention. The Abstract Expressionist artwork of Wyatt Mills, however, not only depicts that very experience, but also contradicts it.
Mills grew up in Los Angeles and recently returned after a four-and-a-half year stint in Brooklyn. While browsing the exhibition listings of some local museums and galleries, I came across his unique brand of Abstract Expressionism and was immediately disappointed to see that I had just missed his showings at Bergamot Station and Culver City’s Prohibition Gallery. Mills’ work has been described as a “full assault on your senses” and as soon as I came across “Prisoner 3”, a warped, collage-style portrait, I was mesmerized by the intricacies of the image, but also a bit unsettled due to the subject’s disfigured appearance. One piercing baby blue eye looks icily at the viewer while another flat turquoise one hangs awkwardly on the opposite side of the face. A giant orange object that looks like a mutated root vegetable is placed aggressively where the nose should be, and the mouth, which looks like that of a small child, seems far too light-hearted and innocent to be part of an image with such violent and perverse qualities. It would be easy to psychoanalyze Prisoner 3 for hours, and it seems that Mills wouldn’t mind.
When asked in an interview with YAY!LA if he ever feels resentful that people make assumptions about what he might have been feeling during the creative process, he says, “No, it’s fine. They’re projecting their own emotions.” Earlier in the same interview Mills says that the best compliment he could receive about his work would be if viewers are initially offended, only to then “spend a long time looking at [the piece] to figure out why they were offended and where that taboo originates.”
While so many modern artists are creating what Mills would call “vanity art”, art that is so conceptual that its meaning can only be understood through an explanation from the artist, Mills’ work is instantaneously evocative. Despite the chaotic, alarming tone of Prisoner 3, it is almost impossible to look away. There is too much to explore, too many images to take in, and it is in that way that Mills forces his viewers to step away from all other distractions and really dig into the experience of the art.