Angel with a dirty face: Interview with artist Stormie Mills
Born and living in Perth, Stormie Mills is perhaps one of Australia’s most internationally recognised and celebrated graffiti artists. Mills has staged shows all over the world, and received top honours to match his unique and immersive images which are sometimes spotted on city street walls, but more often emblazoned on massive canvases and hung in prestigious galleries. Cream sits with Stormie as he opens up about his past, and his views on graffiti in the public domain. Interview by Andrew Filocamo
Can you elaborate on the beginnings of your love for graffiti?
Sure, from when I was very young I remember drawing, always drawing on paper and other things. When I was about 10 I saw a movie with graffiti in it so I started drawing bubble letters to go with the drawings of people and monsters I’d been so preoccupied with. Then in the early 1980s I discovered that the graffiti I’d seen in the movie was done with spray paint so I “liberated” some materials and started painting walls.
So your art was self-taught?
There wasn’t anyone around to teach me and it’s not like I could go to a workshop or a class to learn, so I went out and taught myself with what I could get hold of. It was a great time for me. There were no rules for this; no one else to tell me how to do it, and so I just did what I wanted to. I owe a lot of what I do now to this time as I guess the fact that many things done or prescribed in New York by the creators get lost in translation coming all the way to Perth. I’m grateful for that, as it’s allowed me to learn a medium but not have to follow a style or way of doing things. I’ve evolved as a painter along my own path.
What do you aim to achieve in your art? Do you want people to ponder on certain questions or do you prefer to create art that’s concerned with a purely aesthetic appeal?
I am concerned with an aesthetic, but for me the appeal is in the meaning and metaphors of the work. Colours mean creation, emotions, structures and symbolism – this is all mixed in to create a “still” or frame of a narrative that is a question. The question may be about the world, or humanity and how they work against each other. And I think the question is more important than the answer.
Some of your art seems to evoke a sense of sadness and contemplation. What draws you to the themes you explore?
I’m interested in humanity, why people are alone in this world and what is the source of their spirit or tenacity. I’ve faced some of these things in my life that I guess I am still left wondering at how I made it through. For me it was almost an adventure and it didn’t seem real but I know for many people it is real. I have an empathy for that and like to create work that becomes a homage to the superhero inside them.
What’s your opinion on the reception graffiti gets in the public domain?
For the most part I think it gets a good reception. You just have to look at how many graffiti and street art websites there are, and the positive position they have that outweighs the negative anti-graffiti [perspectives]. The perception that graffiti isn’t popular or welcome is a fallacy, a negative view held by a vocal minority. I’m always wary of those that have an opinion that they think everyone should hear and subscribe to. I have a friend that has just been locked up in Los Angeles for felony graffiti just one week after he was part of the ‘Art In The Streets’ show in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles – which is possibly one of the biggest shows documenting the history of graffiti to date. Given that, I wonder at the stupidity of locking people up for the cost of a coat of paint, particularly young people. I see the real damage we do to people as a society and it’s questionable. To make villains of people I totally disagree with, especially when there are so many real villains out there.
Is there a little bit of Stormie in your main character whom we constantly see?
I’d say so, certainly it is the way I see, interpret and question the world but mostly it’s a celebration of angels with dirty faces. What I do find interesting is how people see themselves in my work; that tells me much greater things about humanity.