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