Skip to content

Conventional to Digital—Artist Russ Mills Looks Through A Glass Darkly

As suggested by the apostle Paul, we sometimes see through a glass darkly. Other times, our reflected mirrored image comes back like the dispersion of light from oil on the surface of water—a distorted rainbow which seeks to superficially permeate through our lack of self-esteem; a  rainbow only surface-thick, radially shrinking into a lonely, isolated drop of colour.

The rapid precipitation of social media spilling over heads has led to a constant creation of individual oil spills, however artist Russ Mills has sought to punctuate this ever-spreading visual curse with his airy, wispy portraits. Mills creates his portraits with a mixture of the conventional three Ps: pen, paint and pencil, with one additional self-mocking medium: computer aided design. Instead of eschewing the traditional form of draughtsmanship, Mills has successfully added to its appeal by hoisting computational techniques and manipulations from the realm of animation up into his lofty repertory in order to challenge the perfunctory selfie.

Mills himself writes that his media are “any liquid/solid that will make a mark that I can manipulate/sanitise later”. Mills’ works are created by hand, and then later manipulated digitally rather than creating some works entirely by computer, and others separately (and entirely) by hand.

'Witchcraft and Cigarettes' by Russ Mills
‘Witchcraft and Cigarettes’. Russ Mills sometimes focuses on Japanese portraiture, which alludes to his career as an illustrator and is perhaps a deliberate tribute to the the genre of manga.

Russ Mills (also known as Byroglyphics) was born in 1971 in Exeter, England and studied at Northbrook College in Sussex before studying for a Batchelor’s degree in graphic art and design at Leeds Metropolitan University—graduating in 1995. Following his time at Leeds Met, Mills worked as a freelance illustrator for nearly 20 years before engaging with galleries in order to establish his career as a professionally represented artist.

'Isoceles' By Artist Russ Mills.
‘Isoceles’. Many of Russ Mills’ portraits are of complete strangers, which helps in focusing on technique rather than personal detail.

Pulling from his experience as an illustrator, Mill’s constructs his virtual palettes using Photoshop and other related programmes—a modus operandi which in the conventional art market can raise critics’ eyebrows: photography’s difficulty to be lauded as a proper art form (often perceived instead as a technology)  leaves much room for criticism  in the digital art world, even though it still requires the dexterous penmanship typical of traditional art.

'Primus Rework' by Russ Mills
‘Primus Rework’. Distorted faces form the basis for Russ Mills’ challenge to the superficiality of our countless images of the self, using the aid of the digital in a self-referential, almost mocking way.

To deconstruct this potential criticism is to analyse what makes physical media more popular vis-à-vis its digital counterpart (including the omnipresent giclée print) amongst art collectors, a critique which can firmly be found in the lack of texture afforded to these works. A heavy textural component  of oil paintings for example —including craquelure—alludes to our familiarity of depth perception; anything else seems foreign or contrived.

Amphipod Digital Media by Russ Mills
‘Amphipod’ by artist Russ Mills, who uses a mixture of conventional media blended with the digital to produce iconic imagery.

In this instance however the lack of texture can be called contextual; lacking texture highlights the lack of substance in our portraits in a digital age, which is why Russ Mills executes digital manipulations in a poignant and germane way. Philosophy aside, his works are pulled off with visual aplomb to produce stunning and striking imagery.

Russ Mills 'Eurydice' Portrait
Mills draws from his twenty-year experience as a freelance illustrator to create portraits such as ‘Eurydice’.

Mills explains that the majority of his portraits are of strangers, since strangers do not invoke personal connection, and hence there is little pressure in creating a genuine likeness. Although, with all of the recurring motifs in his work, one wonders whether this is a trope, a final irony, in order to disabuse his own artwork of the crimes against the self that he himself is critiquing.

After all, what is a self-portrait but  a surface-thick rainbow selfie of higher artistic merit?

Galleries currently representing Russ Mills include Signal GalleryRed Propeller and Gallery at 500 ft.

Find more from Ephemeral Ink 

Find more of Russ Mills (also known as Byroglyphics):





Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *