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I heart Mike MillsI heart Mike Mills

M. K. Johnson explains just why artist-filmmaker Mike Mills takes her fancy

‘THATS the good thing about film—it’s really just a big pirate ship, and it’s 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 aren’t worth doing. That’s a total contradiction, coming from someone who has a film with Keanu Reeves in it, you know. But that’s 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 are—how great your work can really get. Then suddenly you look around and you're 41. You're still trying to pull off that perfect project—the 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.

Never done.

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, Mills’s 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 Art.

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 skater–punk–graffiti–street culture artists and a small, but highly influential movement was born. (For more on Mike Mills' background, see his Thumbsucker blog.)

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 commercial world.’


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 art—of 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 Book 11.

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 (Scroll to October 14, 2005.)

4. He also thinks seeing dogs are pretty good omens. My dogs and I agree.

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 article—so just go to to find out about Does Your Soul Have a Cold?.

8. I like the Humans Project manifestos on

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 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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The Paramount Theatre

From the Humans Project

Gas Book 11
From Mills’s Gas Book 11


Mills became one of the hottest graphic designers and film directors around. He proved that commercial can be experimental (and vice versa)

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