Interview with Rodney McMillian

Posted to Exhibitions, Kunstformidling on 09.01.2017, 13:27 by Susanne Roald with

Rodney McMillian is an interdisciplinary artist who explores oppression and racism from the point of view of his African American background. In this interview, we have talked with McMillian about his paintings in "Los Angeles – A Fiction".


You consider these works to be an evaluation of early American landscape paintings; could you describe the thought process behind these works?

I do consider these works to be evaluations of early American landscape painting because I consider them to be landscape paintings. Those early paintings were devoid of any sense of flesh, bodily fluid or parts — body parts were strewn across that great American expance during that colonialist quest. There was little suggestion of a body except perhaps for the eyes. Through them, an idea of a window into a soul is pressumably born because that land, this land where I’m presently placed, was "god-given".

 

These paintings are made on bed sheets from a thrift shop; can you elaborate on your choice of materials?

We lounge, sleep, make love, ache, recover, rest, fuck, die, read, watch tv, talk and giggle and whisper on bedsheets. My landscapes are literally human scale. They are not or at least, do not attempt to approximate the god-given, the sublime (not that the sublime hasn’t or can’t happen on a bedsheet).

The landscapes I make are pedestrian in that they are of common materials. However, they also at times suggest outer space — or representations of outer space--like, comets, stars and.. These representations are coupled with earth-bound materials, the sheets, a body. The body as a site of a blast off. The body as a location of the other worldly. The body as an intangible. The body as a site that is not easily, if at all possibly mapped. The body as a vessel of endless possibility. This possiblity, real and imagined, is an absolute necessity for those with bodies that are constantly being determined by somebody else.

 

What roles does literature have in your work?

I’ve been reading speculative fiction for a number of years and much of it proposes these possibilities. The literature is about now. From the time I was a child, books have shaped my thinking and imagination. Particularly, while in high school and college literature by Black authors helped to shape my cultural and political self. Reading Baldwin, Wright, Hurston, Morrison, Wideman, Dove and many others helped form my understanding of what a political voice is; of what history can be. Perhaps, more importantly, what one’s job is as an artist--not unlike what I learned and learn from soul music. And to jump to present tense, writers like O. Butler, le Guin and Delany, provided a framework for the landscape paintings.

 

How has the setting of Los Angeles influenced your work?

It rarely rains here and I often work outside. It was a much more affordable place to live when I moved here in 2000. It is still quite affordable when compared to places like NY or London. And different foods literally fall off the tree or can be had at affordable prices. Also, years ago especially, studio or makeshift spaces could be rented or used that didn't require a lot of money. These factors enabled me to make work. I had very little to no money upon graduating from grad school and I was able to scratch out a living and develop a practice here.

These economic concerns aren't far removed from the other things the city has offered me. It's history of conceptual and performance based practices have been instrumental to my education, training and thinking. For me those histories are directly related to the economic realities of the city because many of the artists I studied with or just plain studied dealt with these concerns/considerations in their work. I can not divorce the economic factors from the site of Senga Ngudi, M. Hassenger, U. Jenkins and D. Hammonds' performances in South LA or Asco in East LA. Nor can I do that in regards to Suzanne Lacy and the Women's Building that was downtown. There are many histories and histories of DIY spaces/sites that this city carries that have been incredibly instrumental to my understanding of this place. Whether one works in those veins or not, those histories shape the landscape we're navigating.

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