Although it was not a true debut, this show, which included over 40 new works on paper and two paintings on wood panels, was Wes Mills' first major solo exhibition in New York City. The work of this young artist has been fairly widely exhibited, however, in other cities like Santa Fe, Boston, Munich and Los Angeles as well as in New York in group exhibitions and one-person shows in smaller galleries. The artist himself has lived in a variety of places over the last ten years, moving from the city to the countryside and back again. His restlessness is represented in the searching nature of his work, which usually consists of atmospheric drawings on paper, done in tiny, introspective scale with gentle pencil tracery, using blown and rubbed powdered pigments to great gaseous effect.
The drawings contain concentrated images, usually symmetrical in pairs, that resemble by contour teeth and top hats. Some of the more skeletal drawings depict what appear to be trees like Giant Pines rendered in eyelash hair lines. The tone of Mills' muted background colors range from slatey whites and grays to almost evaporating sandstone pinks and blues. The objects themselves are typically smoldering near the center in a winsome corona of indigo pitch. Many of the white objects appear to dissolve the way the light beam of a flashlight dissolves when shot straight up into the night sky. The surrounding fields of these small works often contain lightly drawn, quivering lines of hard color that are reminiscent of the red colored lines imbedded in the paper of U.S. dollar bills.
Unfortunately, the hardness of the wood panels in two slightly larger paintings seems at odds with the general fuzziness of the work. That wood probably needs to be pulverized into paper in order to surrender itself to the gentle content of Mill's diffuse imagery. Breathing or blowing, and rubbing those powdered pigments seems to go over more naturally on paper, as is realized by the work in the rest of the show. Of course, showing so many reticent works at once makes great demands on any viewer's time and patience, these are obviously works one could live with quite well over a real period of revealing time. Wes Mills' works on paper disclose the true power of gentle, but steady focus.
Wes Mills, Jan. 21-Feb. 21, 1998, at Joseph Helman, 20 West 57th Street, New York, N.Y. 10019.
MICHAEL BRENNAN is a New York painter who writes on art.