Mike Mills

Mike Mills

Mike Mills knows his aesthetic is not complex, but Mills does not care. In fact, Mills, a resident of Silver Lake, Los Angeles – an area that is compared to Williamsburg, Brooklyn for its creative community – is conscious that his aesthetic is, as he says, “Not youthful like teenager, but childlike – like under ten-years-old.”

Mills, an illustrator, filmmaker and writer is busy with his next film and his designs for Humans, a creative outlet Mills uses to place art on mediums to avoid “the elitism of the art world,” he says.

From his Beautiful Losers contributions; to his album covers; to his Supreme T-shirt designs; and to his co-creation of The Directors Bureau, Mills, a Cooper Union graduate, has accomplished consistency in his crafts.

On October 22, Mills’ first feature length documentary, Does Your Soul Have A Cold? , debuts on IFC.

“I’m happy to pick on new developments. I’m not really worried about what damage I’m doing to them.”

Format: Please explain the creation of Humans.
Mike Mills: It’s graphics, posters, scarves, ribbons, some T-shirts, but it’s not a clothing line. Forever, I’ve wanted to do something that had the personal qualities of an art show, but is much more accessible, cheaper and without the elitism of the art world. I was lucky enough to bump into a very nice Japanese guy that was interesting in backing it and that’s how it started, four years ago.

Format: Humans uses recycled paper, non-bleached cotton and soy based inks. A lot of business use materials that are not environmentally friendly, because they’re cost effective. Why is it important that Humans be environmentally friendly?
Mike Mills: Obviously, we all have a responsibility to not make more of a mess that already exists. I think if you’re creating new objects that are going around the world, you have to do everything you can to make them least harmful. Also, we do low print runs. Even though we’re using recycled paper and soy inks, it’s still a bummer that we’re making new paper products.

Format: Fashion designers Yukinori Maeda and Susan Cianciolo used fabrics by Humans – the results are bold, functional clothing. What do you think of their creations?
Mike Mills: They’re both people that I’ve worked with before and have used some of Humans fabrics for their clothing. They’re both people who I admire a lot. I was super honored that they liked my stuff and wanted to do stuff with it. I thought the things they did were beautiful. That is a real highlight for me, that people like that, use my stuff. That is exactly what I wanted to happen: new things happen that I’m not in control of, that I could never have predicted, that are different from what I would do are done with my designs.

Mike Mills

Format: When you’re designing your fabrics, do you have an idea of what its purpose should be while you’re designing it?
Mike Mills: I just come up with an image that makes sense to me and works as a repeatable pattern. I don’t really think about its use, because it can be used so many different ways. I really like that it is not something I control.

Format: Why the name Humans?
Mike Mills: No great reasons, it was just a name that struck me at the time.

Format: You designed for Supreme before Supreme established itself as a leader in streetwear. Today, streetwear is its own industry. What are your thoughts on the evolution of the streetwear industry?
Mike Mills: I’m not an aficionado on that. I knew James Jebbia when he was doing that and I’m an old skater. It was fun to do stuff for people that I knew. My favorite thing about doing stuff for X-Girl or Supreme is seeing people that would wear my stuff on the street.

Format: Does Air’s song “Mike Mills” capture who you are or is it a message to you?
Mike Mills: I think it’s their projected idea of me. They did it while I was doing Thumbsucker and we talked about them doing the music, and they made a song for the movie, but I hadn’t made the movie, yet. I was having a hard time getting financing and I was stalled, and they weren’t stalled so they made the song. The song wasn’t about Thumbsucker. It was their idea of me. I like it.

Mike Mills

Format: In UNDFTD’s billboard project, you’re the only artist to have two billboards. Part one read “The Cops Are Inside Us” and part two was a photograph of a cougar. How did this project come together?
Mike Mills: They’ve been doing that for a long time, Aaron Rose curates it and different people do it. The billboards are up for, I think, three months. I said to them, ‘If you take the fee you’re going to pay me and you make three billboards, will you do that?’ They said sure and now there will be three. I’m not sure when the third one is coming out. The third one is a coyote, it’s a lot like the mountain lion, and those are camera traps. The idea between those two pieces is that land on La Brea Avenue used to be indigenous habitats to mountain lions and coyotes. Those are two predators that we’re afraid of, but we’ve kicked out of our suburban life, but they live all around us. Where I live, in Sliver Lake, there are tons of coyotes moving around. It was my attempt to put the wildlife back into our controlled areas.

Format: And, “The Cops Are Inside Us?”
Mike Mills: That’s an older piece I did and Aaron that curates the billboards really liked it. I transformed it into that billboard that you see. I’m very happy working on billboards, again, it’s kind of like Humans, because it’s getting to make artwork, but it’s in a public context. It’s a small intrusion of your everyday experience.

Format: You’re an architect of several trends: 1995, you design T-shirts for Supreme; 1996, you design skateboards for Subliminal; `98 through 2000 you design record covers for Air. What is your reaction to current design trends?
Mike Mills: I don’t really follow everything that is going around. I wasn’t the only artist making skateboards, there were a whole bunch of artists doing skateboards at the Alleged Gallery that were doing that. Even Supreme hired a bunch of interesting people to do stuff. I was part of a time and group of people that were working in New York, in the `90s when I started off, but I’m not the only person.

Format: Was moving to New York in the `80s a huge culture shock?
Mike Mills: Going from Santa Barbara to New York City in 1984 is a big change, so it was a culture shock.

Mike Mills

Format: For the Mu Museum Exhibition, do you know the person’s house you were spray painting on?
Mike Mills: Those are all specifically picked things. I didn’t know the people’s names. The house wasn’t finished, it was almost done so no one owned it yet, so I figured it was a good time to damage the house. The developer would have to pay for it, not the homeowner. I tried to pick really public places that were part of the new Los Angeles or the new development. I’m happy to pick on new developments. I’m not really worried about what damage I’m doing to them.

Format: What is one thing that people can do to be aware of new developments?
Mike Mills: With those graffiti pieces, they’re not specifically about developments, but I’m happy that they’re on new developments. They’re about different issues. They’re interjecting a personal voice into a very anonymous place. In relationship to those pieces it’s really about how we assume the aesthetics of those places are something that we have to live with and those pieces, in a small way, say: no we can customize them, vandalize them and not accept it as a fact or inevitable.

I think graffiti’s a positive thing. A very empowering, positive and almost organic thing that redistributes aesthetic power back in our world – something as simple as a tag means that person is saying they’re just as powerful as the MTA.

Format: When you’re in film production, do you find it difficult to create as an illustrator?
Mike Mills: They really go together for me. Right now, I’m working on the script for my next film and it’s a very long project, I’ve been working on it for two years and you don’t work on it all the time. When I do designs for Humans, they happen much quicker. It’s things happening at different paces at the same time. For me, I’m so relieved to from working on my script, which is so intense, to jumping off that train to doing posters, which is quicker. I’m a child of TV culture where a lot of things were going on at once and that’s definitely the way I like to work. If I had to do one thing I would be overwhelmed by that one thing.

Mike Mills

Format: For commercials, your client list includes Apple, Levis and Nike. How is your creative process affected by large clients?
Mike Mills: When you’re doing ad it’s a different game, you’re in a tighter box. There are a lot more constraints from money to doing an ad for a company that wants you to say something. I’ve been lucky that I have not had to do a ton of ads to make a living. I’ve been able to choose ones that suit where I am at a particular time. I tried to use ads as my film school, so when I was preparing for Thumbsucker, I would definitely choose ads where I could practice something I needed to learn to make Thumbsucker. If I wanted to figure out steady-cam, I would look for an idea that needed steady-cam. In the world of ads there are definitely ones that are better. If you only have to do two or one a year you have a higher chance of picking good ones.

I’m trying to stop doing ads. I retired from The Directors Bureau, which is a production company I started with Roman Coppola.

Format: Why did you retire from The Directors Bureau?
Mike Mills: I turned an age where I’ve done this for a while and if I did ads anymore it’s no longer film school, I’m an ad director and I wasn’t comfortable being an ad director. I like changing things. I think it’s really important to not be stuck in one identity of yourself. At the time, I really wanted to expand beyond the way people thought of me as part of The Directors Bureau. I still love The Directors Bureau, I go there all the time, all my friends are there.

Format: Please explain your current documentary Does Your Soul Have A Cold?
Mike Mills: It’s about people taking anti-depressants in Japan and the introduction of anti-depressants in Japan. It’s a very personal portrait of five people. There are no experts, no doctors and no officials of any kind. It’s people that are taking medication and their personal, subjective relationship to it. It’s going to be on the IFC channel on October 22.

There were anti-depressants before 2000, but not too much and they were the old school kind, not SSRIs. In 2000, GlaxoSmithKline had this huge media campaign and brought in Paxil, which is a new class of anti-depressants. What’s really new is that they had these advertising campaigns and in Japan, they didn’t have a common word for depression. It was something a lot of people didn’t know about, so it really changed the consciousness about depression.

Mike Mills

Format: You’ve done a series of for Blonde Redhead. How did your relationship with Blonde Redhead form?
Mike Mills: When you do videos you get the music and write ideas. I wrote these very strange ideas. I really loved the music, but I didn’t want to do a normal video, and there wasn’t a lot of money, so I tried to think of very different ideas that were not like any I’ve done before. Luckily, they responded. I’ve never actually met them while I was making those pieces.

Format: In Blonde Redhead’s video, “The Dress,” how did you get all those people to cry?
Mike Mills: They’re all actors or extras that want to be actors. We said to them, ‘You have to come in and cry, if you can’t just come in and cry, please don’t come.’ People were all honest and the ones that could cry came. We played music for them and it was a very quiet, dark room so they had a sense of privacy.

Format: Your illustrations appear youthful, Humans posters are sold in a children’s store in Tokyo, even. As you age, do you find your illustrations become less youthful?
Mike Mills: I think it changes. Your creativity changes with your age, you have different interests, different perspectives and I definitely see things different then before. That said, I think my overall aesthetic is very childlike. Not youthful like teenager, but childlike – like under ten-years-old. I definitely like to make things as simple as I can. I like to reduce things down to their parts. I’m really interested in childhood and the years that we formed all of our ideas that we continue to unravel for the rest of our lives. I think my work will always have a simple, childlike quality to it even though that content isn’t always simple.

Format: Do you feel a moral responsibility for the end product of your creativity?
Mike Mills: Everything that I like is, in a way, socially progressive. A more sensitive world to animals and the environment, and those are important things to me. I don’t think my work is overtly political, but I don’t think you have to be overt to be part of progressive change. No just creativity, but everything that everything you do in the world, you’re hopefully aware of how it affects other people.

More Info: http://www.mikemillsweb.com

Mike Mills

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