It seems that things are more like me now,
that I can see farther into paintings.
I feel closer to what language can’t reach.
Whether building layer upon layer of oil paint on cardboard to provoke strong, raw emotions with abstract forms or sculpting silhouettes of animal companions, Gigi Mills is a master at capturing the beauty and complexity of stillness, silence and solitude.
Deborah Fritz, owner of GF Contemporary, which represents Mills, explains, “I was instantly drawn to Gigi’s work almost twenty years ago. Her paintings have a timeless quality — a soul — that made me take note. I see it every day: clients literally stop and move towards her work when they encounter it in the gallery.” For instance, Mills’ landscapes are vast expanses of the soul that entrance you as you stand before the massive Night Sky and Starfish and Gold Sea and Night Sky, favorites among gallery visitors. Her work seems to express, as Rilke puts it, “what language can’t reach.”
Mills’ paintings often depict solitary figures in moments of everyday life, at times accompanied by an animal companion. For example, Mills says, “Bird Dog was certainly one of my most beloved companions. He figures in a large number of my works and continues to do so off and on. I feel in my work he is often depicted as a guardian and sometimes as a bearer of hardships.” She sees that as also true of the burros and horses, other animals she sometimes includes. Mills believes these observant animals not only carry humanity’s physical burdens but also our emotional burdens, and that they seem “to bear witness to this world silently and with acceptance.” In Bird Dog and Fishing Pole and Walking to the Sea, these companions stand beside a human figure.
On Influences and Being an Artist
When asked about influences that inform her art, Mills says, “I have a visual connection to Milton Avery as an influence and to Marsden Hartley.” Mills’ most significant influence, however, is Mark Rothko. Moved at times to tears when viewing his work, she explains, “There is energy in the work that is alive.” Mills also draws from her own rich life experiences. They include being raised in a circus family, earning a BFA in theatre and an MA in choreography, and being a ballet dancer. These influences are reflected in Circus/Camel and Balancing Poodles and in her use of negative space in Green Pool and Girl in a Round Chair.
As to becoming an artist, Mills says, “I don’t believe I ever had a choice. As for artists, we continue to create, to bring things into this world that did not exist before. That is all I am doing. I’m not sure that I even think about being an artist as a career now.” She states further, “And I certainly am grateful and almost daily amazed at my ability to support myself in the making of these things.”
Looking Toward the Future
In a time of uncertainty, Mills believes that galleries and artists have no choice but to move forward, looking for solutions, without complaint. She says she temporarily stopped working, “not because I was upset, not because I was worried. I just wanted to be quiet . . . and I was exhausted.” She says that “witnessing the entire world stop has to be one of the most extraordinarily moments ever.”
Although still going to her studio daily, Mills took many days gazing out the window simply observing nature. Observing rather than creating helped her remember that persistence is a recurring theme in her life, and it wasn’t long into her pondering and self-reflection that she set her next GF Contemporary show for late October.
In what could be a physically and financially overwhelming time for artists and galleries, Mills says galleries are searching for ways to continue and that she not heard anyone complain about the sanctions set up to help protect clients, artists and gallery personnel. “They are all trying to work within extraordinarily difficult parameters, and I believe are much more interested in innovations.” It is human nature, she believes, to look toward the future.
Fritz concurs with Mills’ assessment, saying, “I am not going to sugarcoat it: times have changed and have become increasingly difficult for art galleries that rely on walk-in traffic, tourists and big openings. With most of the events in Santa Fe cancelled, that business model is no longer viable. Shifting to online is a great option.”
Fritz considers artists the most resilient of any workforce because “they are used to living on the edge of a knife.” She says, “Art will survive. Artists will survive. I know artists are also using this time to explore new genres. You’ve got to admit, this [unusual time] is great fodder for creative individuals.”
On Lineage and Legacy
What does Mills hope people experience when viewing her art? “That’s none of my business,” Mills asserts. “That’s not meant to sound rude, but I take an impression I experience in a moment of my life and transfer it to my work. Clearly, if I am creating it, it left an impression on me, so whatever someone takes from my work, that is theirs alone.” Says Mills, “My entire life shapes my work. I am highly visual, and it’s possible I am simply translating my emotional world into my visual world and vice versa, seeing something and translating that into an emotion on canvas.”
Mills was raised in the South, where lineage is often traced and documented with pride. “I didn’t have that myself,” she says, “but I do have clients who have bought ten or thirteen pieces of my work, and I have followers that come to every exhibit and do not buy a thing. Both are connected to my work, and that is my lineage. That is priceless to me.”
Originally from Lawrence, Kansas, Nicole came with her fiancé back to his hometown of Santa Fe after college. They have one son. Nicole has years of experience editing academic manuscripts for publication. She holds multiple degrees, including a BS in speech, language and hearing, and two master’s degrees in education. She loves hiking, camping, reading, collecting bronze sculptures, early mornings and any opportunity to watch live sporting events.