living: our people
heart Mike Mills
M. K. Johnson explains just why
artist-ﬁlmmaker Mike Mills takes her fancy
the good thing about filmits really just a big pirate
ship, and its like saying, How do you become a good
pirate? Well, any f***ing way that you want. Just find your
way to do it. I would put a huge vote in for doing it yourself and
not believing things made at home and made for cheap or things made
on video and without movie stars arent worth doing. Thats
a total contradiction, coming from someone who has a film with Keanu
Reeves in it, you know. But thats what I believe.Mike
Mills on Spout.Blog
SCREENING the world première
of the Beautiful Losers documentary at SXSW
introduced me to artists I knew I'd seen, but didn't really recognize,
including Mike Mills. He doesn't know it, but he's just become one
of my very favourite people. I'm also crazy about Shepard Fairey,
Stephen Powers, Margaret Kilgallen and the other artists featured
in the film, but Mills stands out for me. When I look at his artwork,
watch his movies and videos, and read what he says in interviews,
I catch myself thinking, I get that. I don't even need
my Understand Modern Art Breath Spray. (You can get your own at
In an interview with Pretty
Cool People Interviews, Mills talks about constantly being
hurried to finish the current project, struggling to get it perfect
before having to move on to the next project. The looking at the
next project as the chance to prove to (yourself and) the world
how talented you arehow great your work can really get. Then
suddenly you look around and you're 41. You're still trying to pull
off that perfect projectthe flawless art. You never have time.
I get that.
I've been writing online since 1998, and offline
for far longer. The articles are never quite done when I hit Send.
They still need work, but the deadline's always looming and there
you go. My email messages are always littered with, I really
need at least one more source for this, or, If I could
just make one more phone call to that source to clarify a point.
What can you do but move on to the next piece? I throw myself at
project after project, event after event. I try not to give myself
the time to get nervous or too introspective lest I get cold feet.
Just pack the bag and go. Have camera, will travel.
But I digress. A lot.
Let's back up a bit. Here's a little background
on Mike Mills, the artist. Although Beautiful Losers is about
artists making their mark outside the art establishment, Millss
background is from the unlikely combination of the skate world and
the art establishment. His father was an art museum director and
Mills went to the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and
According to Mills, After art school, I
started out as a graphic designer that would sometimes have shows
in art galleries. What else is a skater-punk-graffiti artist
to do with his time in New York City? That's about that time Aaron
Rose's Alleged Gallery attracted other hard-edged skaterpunkgraffitistreet
culture artists and a small, but highly influential movement was
born. (For more on Mike Mills' background, see his Thumbsucker
From there Mills became one of the hottest graphic
designers and film directors around. He proved that commercial can
be experimental (and vice versa). In an
October 3, 2007 interview Mills said he had to leave the limited
audience of the art world and, subvert the normal, mainstream
AT THE END of Beautiful Losers,
which I will have to get on DVD as
soon as it's available of course, Mills says (to paraphrase), don't
trust people in suits giving advice. He's the only person in the
entire film wearing a suit. It's weirdly perfect.
So, here are 10 things I like about Mike Mills.
1. His artof course. The entire Humans
Project in Japan is so wonderful I'd need to write another article
to explain why. (See, I'm never done.)
2. Also the piece from the Mu Museum Exhibition
in 2004 that has Neither of us can go to heaven unless the
other gets in, spray painted on a wall. It also graces the
cover of his book, Gas
3. He likes dogs and owns (or is owned by) two
dogs. They have occasionally left him blog messages like the one
left on his Thumbsucker
blog at Sonyclassics.com. (Scroll to October 14, 2005.)
4. He also thinks seeing dogs are pretty good omens. My dogs and
5. He makes things with ribbons.
6. The commercials he directs are frequently about people working
in dull beige and mauve offices.
7. He made a film about the way the Japanese
cope with (and now medicate) depression. This is such an incredibly
unique and complex topic that, again, I would need to write another
articleso just go to ifc.bside.com
to find out about Does Your Soul Have a Cold?.
8. I like the Humans Project manifestos
9. I also like what he thinks about manifestos: I love
manifestos because they are completely pretentious and ridiculous
and no one should write them. Long live manifestos! (Also
from the above Humans.jp site.)
10. Also the Humans Project uses recycled
paper, non-bleached cotton, and soy-based inks. Thank you.
M. K. Johnson was Lucire’s first beauty editor and now
serves as its Austin, Texas correspondent.
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