The Eyes Have It
Jason Ramos reviews the recent exhibition John Mills: For Your Eyes Only at Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Los Angeles.
"For Your Eyes Only, John Mills’s newest solo exhibition at Rosamund Felsen Gallery, is not about the 12th James Bond film from 1981 starring Roger Moore as 007. But the title is a clue as to what parts of the viewers’ body should be prioritized when experiencing this current body of work. Mills’s second solo with the gallery has him continuing with the square format, the white-ish grounds, the modest-to-heroic scale, and a visual language inspired by early European abstraction. A surface critique might argue for some more bolder, declarative evolutionary changes from one exhibition to the next, but as pointed out in the title, these works aren’t for a viewer’s cynical, novelty-seeking lizard brain. These works are for your eyes, only, the eyes being the only part of our brain that is in actual physical contact with the world outside of our own heads.
Having staked his claim with his format, ground, scale and referents, Mills’s new work is free to juggle the possibilities and delights offered with painting’s phenomenological effects. Space is stacked, folded, stretched and warped; marks, dabs, and scribbles flow, writhe and repeat themselves as if moving through time. Elements in each composition obey a felt sense of optical logic, the edge of the canvases being the most influential formal element. In the larger works Ellipsis, Sign Language, and Formal Foilbles, dabs/blobs/circles/dots bounce off the frame like Pong, tracing their paths into another spatial dimension, never bouncing out of the frame. Underneath and around them in the background and on their level, more familiar Mills-esque elements follow the blobs’ lead. More than even his last exhibition, Mills’s work reads like transcriptions of consciousness, reactions to emerging visual structures in each painting, a result of their being based on smaller drawings. Flashes of identifiable imagery are now joined in equal measure with more direct visual sensations; in Birdcage, Off the Wall, and Mental Charms the picture plane is carved and contoured on top of distant, hazy, clouds of fluffy background. While the emergent imagery in his last solo, High on Signs, frequently took the shape of suggested faces, heads, leaves and feathers, here scribbled into the grounds are goofy cartoon character bits and pieces, comically floating around, as in the paintings Commune and the aforementioned Off the Wall, recalling somewhat the line and character of Far Side cartoonist Gary Larson.
Suggestive associations abound in all the paintings, perhaps the most visually poetic being Out There, a smaller work from 2015. Simple diamond shapes read like kites in the wind, completing a recurring motif of motion through time and space. This work along with the paintings titled Master Stack and Nature Crush inch up to referencing landscape imagery, yet another possibility offered by the broad range of the abstract square format, the ultimate modernist invention. Mills’s squares this time, however, rely less on their identification as revivals of modernist aesthetic than as accessible, sensitive meditations on the affecting presence of marks, dabs, lines, scribbles, doodles, smudges, shapes and other basic visual responses. They are in a closer arena of work that would include such masters of affecting simplicity as Richard Tuttle, Mary Heilman, and Robert Ryman, though with an eye towards the basic components of intuitive pictorial imagery that is reminiscent of the recent work of Laura Owens, David Lloyd, Chris Martin, and Torey Thornton."