The Woskob Family Gallery is a space for contemporary arts and culture in downtown State College, PA.
Artist Q & A: Adia Millett
July 20, 2017
Adia Millett, originally from Los Angeles, California received her MFA from the California Institute of the Arts. In 2001, she moved to New York City for the prestigious Whitney Museum Independent Study Program, followed by the Studio Museum in Harlem residency program. Millett has been a standout in numerous group exhibitions including the well-received “Greater New York” show at PS1 in Long Island City, New York and “Freestyle” at the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York. In the past, she has been included in exhibitions at the Barbican Gallery in London; The California African American Museum, Los Angeles; The Craft and Folk Museum in LA; The New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Atlanta; The Santa Monica Museum of Art; and The Contemporary Art Center, New Orleans. Millett has taught as an artist in residence at Columbia College in Chicago, UC Santa Cruz, Cooper Union in NY, and currently at California College of the Arts. She is a recipient of the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship. In 2008, she had a major solo exhibition at the Contemporary Art Center of Virginia.
You’ve talked about how your work often explores the complex spaces we call home. What does “home” mean to you?
Home means several things in the context of my work. It can represent the structure for human subjectivity, identity, and/or the container in which our psychological states of being reside. The textures, colors, dimensions, and features of each home speaks to the qualities that the viewer chooses to create a story around, just as a person may do when looking at another human. Their clothes, body language, and level of emotion vulnerability (openness) can help us to project our belief systems upon them.
You say that the series “The Guest House” is inspired by the poem of the same name by Rumi – Is this a typical inspiration for your work? What are other sources?
I am often inspired by a fusion of writers, artists, music, friends, deceased love ones, and even concepts like aging, love, birth, race, impermanence, etc. I think of my art as a way to have a conversation with someone like Rumi, Baldwin, or Khalo for example.
How do you pick titles for your work? How do you determine what physical characteristics are best to express the concepts that you say inhabit the various “guest houses”?
The titles for the Guest House series are very significant because they are each connected to a state of being, for example: integrity, loss, trust. We all feel moments of each of these. Rumi’s poem discusses how being human is like being a guest house and we must invite each guest (state of being) in with open arms, with the knowledge that it is only visiting. Besides being an artist and a teacher, I am also a counselor and life coach. This series gave me the opportunity to imagine what over 80 different states could look like from my own imagination. The other two pieces in the Home Economics exhibition are titled Façade 1 and 2. While these titles seem less poignant, they are more ironic for me. While so much of my work focuses on the intricate details of the exteriors of houses, I am also examining the illusion or façade of our own identities. In these two pieces the facades are starting to be dismantled or invaded, revealing the essence of what lies underneath.
You’ve worked in a wide range of mediums, has this been a conscious choice or a product of chance?
Very conscious. Every medium has it’s limitations and its unique ability to access different parts of it’s viewers imagination. Sometimes I literally want my viewer to be able to walk inside a space, so I build an installation. Sometimes I want them be seduced by the limitations and flatness that paint or pen can offer. And sometimes I want the nostalgia of quilting or cross-stitch. It’s as if I am developing an extended story and each chapter is in a different language.
Tell us a little about your process.
I think I could write a 300-page book about my process. In its simplest form, it usually starts with a feeling, which leads to me thinking about my ideas and opinions around that feeling. Then I start to imagine what the ideas look like and what metaphors often help me best to define the feelings. Then I start to think about how these images and ideas can be relevant to a collective consciousness. In other words how can the art I want to make be accessible to all ethnicities, genders, ages, economic groups, etc. And then I begin to think about how the physical process can be an act of meditation for me, based on the materials I am using. Often I choose mediums that require a repetitive act of placing small parts, intricate details. For me making the work then becomes a ritual, where my creative mind gets to dance with logic and perspective.
Are you working on anything new? What’s next for you?
I am currently doing a series of line drawings of dream-like floating structures that are referring to an actual home being built in Northern California. I am also working on a series of quilt/textile pieces and photo collages pieces for my next solo exhibition at State Space Gallery in San Francisco.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about your work or artistic practice?
The one thing I always like to remember is that I can look at a single piece of art in terms of my own experience and how it impacts me, but looking at the breadth of an artist’s work, can make me fall in love.
For more information visit Adia Millet’s website at http://adiamillett.com and follow her on Instagram at @fromadiawithlove