The two years that William Mills focused on being a professional artist have been something of a whirlwind. Talking to him, you can’t help but think it’s been a whirlwind of his own making – there is grit and determination in there – but what really turns him gale-force is his passion.
“It’s gone absolutely nuts,” William tells me over the phone. That ‘nuts’ is the combo of sales, exposure and prizes he has achieved. With two prizes – New Elizabeth Bovill Trophy and Joanna Radford Prize – under his belt for 2020, William Mills is also Devon Open Studios bursary winner, and is showing at Artizan Gallery, Torquay.
That success has seen an increase in media demands – like chatting to me, which will be followed by a radio interview.
“When you are doing this professionally, managing your profile is half of the job. It doesn’t really matter what you paint if you can’t get people to see it, and I quite enjoy it,” he says.
I ask about the whirligig busy-ness the trajectory of his professional career seems to have taken. Becoming an artist was a decision Will took after being made redundant.
“If I’m being very honest it has to be that way,” he says. “I think stagnation is incredibly scary when you’re self-employed. If you’re not pushing things as hard as you possibly can every day, then it’s a very, very difficult journey even with a lot of hard work.
“If you’re doing this because you’re passionate about it, and because you want to be doing it in 10 or 20 years, then you can’t really mess around with it. If it fails, at least I can say I gave it a good start and I can try again in a couple of years.”
It takes a different sort of resolution to turn a creative drive into a full-time career.
“It is a problem when you start painting because you are passionate about painting and you keep painting because you are passionate about painting, and then one day you feel like your livelihood depends on you being able to create quality work,” he says.
It’s a scary situation that can quickly become overwhelming, frustrating and exhausting – there’s no easy fix to a creative bump.
Your best painting
“If you can’t manage to paint some things that are worth sharing, it’s scary and it’s frustrating,” says Will. “I just sort of hope it comes back. It always does, eventually. It’s quite comforting knowing that you will paint another good painting. That you’ve not painted your best painting yet.”
Based in Torquay, with the wonderful coastline as well as the nearby Dartmoor, there should be plenty for Will to draw on.
“There’s definitely external inspiration, but the biggest compelling thing for me to paint comes from a more internal place. When I was growing up, I had quite bad ADHD, and painting was the only place I could be a child with ADHD and not feel overwhelmed or negatively impacted at all. In fact, the reverse.
An internal place
“The art studio in school and particularly the arts faculty were incredibly important in giving me the opportunity to just be myself. And being able to go to that place was an inspiration. There are definitely artists whose work has moved me and changed my outlook, but when I think about what drives me to paint or what makes me want to paint, it’s something that I can do and not feel that I’m swimming against the tide.”
“When I first started, I felt very compelled to make work that others would find to be attractive, which is a pitfall in some respects because you can’t predict people’s tastes and you can’t create what you think other people would enjoy. You can never do a good enough job of it. If you paint what you love, what speaks to you, people will either find enjoyment in that or they won’t, and you can’t change that – and nor should you.
“Over the last two years, my work has definitely found more of its own voice and I’ve definitely found more confident approaches to the work, not just in techniques but in visual aesthetics and style and tone. They are more honest now. It was all part of a journey.”
At the end of the day, he says, that process – that journey – is carried out in front of the canvas.One of the filips to that has been his recent awards, the 2020 New Elizabeth Bovill Trophy and Joanna Radford Prize, which have given him a lot of confidence to experiment with new styles.
“That was a game changer for me,” he says. “I sold the painting, and I miss it actually.”
If William Mills has been a whirlwind, then Artizan Gallery definitely helped with the direction.
“They’ve been with me with every step since day one,” said Will. “I’d just been made redundant and I didn’t want a job that wasn’t right. With ADHD it’s an enormous professional and emotional toll. I called in to get some direction and guidance on what I would like the first year to look like. Since then, they’ve been fantastic, patient and generous with their time and their knowledge. I wouldn’t have accomplished half of what I have this year without them.”
Will’s paintings have been described as ‘Turner-esque’, offering the viewer something new with each glance. They are alive with passion, and a purely personal inspiration.
top image: Untitled Abstract William Mills
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