Miles McMillan: a Man on the Cusp of Art and Fashion

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Miles McMillan in his studio, photography by Matthew Pandolfe

The intersection of art and fashion has inspired a timeless love affair. Artists, muses and designers meet and inspire one another to create and explore their mediums, pushing boundaries and creating innovative new movements. In 1987 a young Jean Michel Basquiat walked the Comme des Garçons Spring/Summer collection runway donned in a typical Eighties double-breasted power suit, grey of course. By doing this Rei Kawakubo sent one message to the audience: the artist is the new muse and sex symbol. 

In more recent years Robert Longo’s, “Men Trapped in Ice” was re-interpreted for Bottega Veneta’s Autumn/Winter 2010 ad campaign. This past January the designer, Helmut Lang, revealed his first solo art show at New York’s Sperone Westwater, while Raf Simon’s recent collaboration with Ruby Sterling had both the fashion and art world clamoring to wear art as fashion. And photographers such as Nan Goldin and Nobuyoshi Araki have all lent their vision to luxury labels.

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Miles McMillan in his studio, photography by Matthew Pandolfe

We are now looking at a generation that sees art and fashion merging with the change of every season; and Miles McMillan springs from this nexus. McMillan is a NYU Fine Arts graduate, but also a sought after male model. Hailing from La Jolla, California, his life’s inspired by the broad beaches, towering palm trees, sun-kissed faces and coastal architecture. His Jim Morrison appeal mixed with 1990s Viper Room club kid vibe has graced the cover of Bazaar Man and Dior ads. In his art McMillan explores the primal and natural expressions of human sexuality and desire. His effortless mix of hyper-masculine erotic male portraiture and the femininity of flowers also alludes to his own understanding of androgyny, which he has used in both his painting and modelling career. 

Sleek had the pleasure to sit down with Miles at his studio in SoHo, NYC and discuss mermaids, objectifying men and how modelling has influenced his art.

Miles McMillan
Photography by Sebastian Faena

When did you first become interested in the arts?

I’ve always had a strong passion for art and nature. One of my earliest memories was being four years old and going up to my art teacher and asking her if she would teach me how to draw a mermaid. Creating and thinking about art has always been a part of who I am. I stem from a very creative family. My grandmother is a folk artist of sorts, her claim to fame is these wooden hearts that she makes with her ban saw in the back of her barn, she’s still making them at 86. My parents always pushed me to do things I have a passion for. At a very young age I started taking art classes, which led to taking private art lessons and even a stint at an art summer camp.

Who are some of your art inspirations today?

Lucien Freud, Jack Pierson, Eva Hesse, Louise Bourgeois, Terry Winters. Recently, I’ve been obsessed with Jonas Wood. A few months ago while in Milan I visited the Taschen Bookstore where Wood did these terrazzo floors with brass inlay depicting the flora of California. Terazzo has a very special place in my heart and his nature-based subject matter reminded me of home. I was beyond blown away by the entirety of the installation. I’m jealous of his work, but in the best way.

 You received your bachelors of fine arts from NYU Steinhardt. What professors and classes helped you improve your art practice?

Maureen Gallace was great in showing me how to care about my art and how to carry myself when talking about it and while creating it. She also taught a class with Jack Pierson, who is one of the most amazing artists that I’ve been so lucky to have not only been educated by, but photographed by as well. Jack and I are still in contact with each other, he is such an inspiration to me.

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Miles McMillan in Dries Van Noten, photography by Sebastian Faena

How did you transfer from art to modelling? Was it difficult to go from the creator of images to being used as the subject of other people’s creations?

I think it was the summer of my junior year at NYU that a photographer approached me outside of a dingy music venue in the Lower East Side. I negotiated my rate for the job by myself and got more than their set rate. Back then I was painting women who were in seductively reclined poses and I would crop off their limbs. In the middle of my senior year I got pick up by an agency and started trying it out. And once I became someone who was the subject of an image I turned inward to examine myself as the subject in my own work, resulting in a series of nude self-portraits. After that series of work, I became much more influenced by photographs, the way in which light reflects onto skin and other male forms.

What are the concepts in your work?

You could say my art is about objectifying men or women but I think I work with themes of high and low [culture] and lust. Taking something cheap and dirty and remaking it with oil paints, taking a subject are usually looked down upon and presenting it in a new elevated state. Taking a hyper-masculine subject and offsetting with a delicate subject. My main subject material comes form pornographic images. I get ideas from renaissance and religious paintings, primitive art, contemporary portrait painters, nature and really everywhere I travel to. It’s about the portrait. When you see my portraits its cropped in a way any portrait is, but there’s something more to that image, something deeper, something darker, and I think the viewer can pick up on that.

Miles McMillan
Miles McMillan in his studio, photography by Matthew Pandolfe

How do you balance modelling and your studio practice?

It’s fucking hard I’ll tell you that much! I always travel with a sketchbook and always some sort of note pad and pencils. I try to go to museums and galleries, but sometimes it’s just a walk in a neighborhood that inspires me.

Tell me about your current series of work?

I see my current work as a transition series. I needed to break myself and work solely on instincts. If I think it’s enough, it’s done. I start my process by researching images, I get them from porn websites or getting lost in Tumblr. For this last series I framed the guys with elements of nature. I just came back from a very profound and deep trip to the jungle in Peru and the plants had a huge effect on me. They found their way into these paintings as shapes and colors to counteract the stylised 2015 internet culture of pornographic images I work with. You know, plants have always been important to me, my child hood home is filled with plants and I spent a lot of time in Hawaii growing up and still do. Being surrounded by all those tropical plants really makes me happy. They are a part of who I am they represent so much to me, life, death, and everything in the middle.

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Miles McMillan in Chanel, photography by Sebastian Faena

Can you talk about your process and how it has developed?

It varies. I mostly work with oils on either canvas or wood. I was taught a very old school version of working with oils. I start with covering the canvas in a raw umber ground and then use the same colour to find the lines of the subject I’m painting. Then I find the shadows and middle tones and finally put in the highlights with white. Then I’ll let that dry and then go over it with color. These days my painting style is more fluid and natural.

Who would you like to collaborate with as an artist?

A couple months ago I saw Jonas Wood and Shio Kusaka’s collaborative show at Karma Gallery in New York, which blew me away. I guess I’ve never thought about who I’d want to collaborate with, but it would be great to work on a project with Jack Pierson. We’ll see.

Interview by Jessica Steller

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