Revitalization of Rhopography in the Oil Paintings of PJ Mills

Watermelon and Christmas lights, oil painting on canvas, 51 x 64, PJ Mills

 

The oil paintings of Miami, Florida based artist PJ Mills present everyday objects such as a toy, spiritual items, food, and personal possessions of the artist, all realistically rendered in still life scenes.  The artwork objects may be contextually placed in a still life setting or within more ambiguous spaces. At first glance this subject matter may seem to have little importance— yet these paintings make viewers take another look at these ordinary items perhaps previously taken for granted. As the artist PJ Mills says,” These paintings focus on those personal possessions that I find curiously engaging.”  And we agree–there is a substantial presence in each of these images. Some of the canvases are as large as 51 x 64 inches and as small as 12 x 12 inches, with each study holding its own as an artwork.

Paper Crane, oil painting on canvas, 48 x 48, PJ Mills

 

Steak, oil painting on canvas, 18 x 18, PJ Mills

 

PJ Mills is art historically connected to the practice of painters of the past in that his painterly examination may represent or symbolize the artist’s ideas or the items may have metaphorical implications. Still life painting of such common everyday objects is often referred to art historically as “rhopography.”  According to The English Oxford Dictionary  the art historical definition of rhopography, is a depiction of subject matter considered insignificant or trivial, as still life, the domestic interior, animals, insects and the like.

 

Rabbit’s Foot and Communion Hosts, oil painting on canvas, 48 x 48, PJ Mills

 

Pinned Beetle, oil painting on canvas, 12 x 12 inches, PJ Mills

 

PJ Mills subjects of interest for his paintings may include the contemporary, such as Polaroid photos, as well as objects present through time such as things that maintain religious or supernatural characteristics– divining rods, masks, or spiritual fetish articles. The artist is also very aware of how a simple juxtaposition of two or more objects will express far more complex meanings.   The juxtaposition of objects arranged by visual artists is similar to how many poets lay down verse. It is not the words per se that contain the power, but the unknown image that arises from what was created by the juxtaposition. Defined as the “imago ignota,” it is the combination of words which elevate them beyond the language of the obvious. “I contend that this holds true for images, as well,” says the artist.

 

Polaroids, oil painting on canvas, 48 x 48, PJ Mills

 

“In the last few years,” says PJ Mills, ” I have started to isolate and focus on personal effects that relate specifically to personal consumption and identity. A woman’s compact may be an aid for the adjustment of lipstick but also holds the secrets of her self-absorption snapped shut in the tidy compartment of her purse. Risque and subjective photographs (Polaroids) may be titillating, they are also quite personal and speak of privacy as well. Jewel like insects, the tiny treasures of boyhood fascination or even the food we eat raise questions of adult obsession with consumerism. Issues of identity and consumerism all stem directly and indirectly from strange as well as obvious places in our lives. These visual investigations of isolated objects and/or juxtapositions of personal effects, represent the seemingly obvious. But also the often enigmatic, and yet always metaphorically pregnant meanings.”

 

Clown & Thorns, oil painting on canvas, 51 x 64, PJ Mills

 

“My approach to painting is highly personal and intuitive. During the creative process I try to think as little as possible about this work and let the subjects surface from my subconscious. The result is quite suggestive by its contents and symbolically loaded with historical references. This material develops from entirely personal experiences and through obsessions I have with objects and my musing regarding the human condition as it relates to identity issues. The personal subjectivity of this work is not a grand philosophical statement. It is instead more closely related to a genre sensibility characteristic of the mundane used as metaphors for larger ideas.”

 

Monster, oil painting on canvas, 48 x 48, PJ Mills

 

“Common Still life painting that was popular in the 17th century Dutch and Flemish often contained hidden allegories such as the Christian Passion, Resurrection or the transience of things in life. They were little paintings with big ideas. The paintings during this time that concerned themselves with life, death and transient events between were often referred to as “Vanitas” paintings. Not in the sense of vainness or conceit; “Vanitas” often a latin term used to describe a notion of evanescence of earthly possessions and the life linked to the work. The meanings in these paintings were conveyed by the use of objects, mostly familiar and everyday items and were given a symbolic connotation. My paintings are similar in the sense that they isolate a particular object or group of objects containing a history of symbolic references. Within the body of my work, historical reference and symbolic references are typically ignored and the object is valued for purely personal reasons. The result often has an element of cognitive dissonance if not absurdity to the reasons behind its selection. I find the confusion intriguing.”

Then the brilliant artist PJ Mills simply sums up his work by stating– “I depart from seventeenth century concepts and slip in contemporary wackiness.”

 

Captive Bolt Pistol & Toy, oil painting, 48 x 48, PJ Mills

 

PJ Mills received his MFA degree in painting from Cornell University and has exhibited in numerous US art galleries. You can view more paintings on the artist’s website here.

Follow the artist PJ Mills on Instagram here.

Visit PJ Mills’ Facebook page here.

 

Wishbone, oil painting on canvas, 12 x 12, PJ Mills

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