Michael McMillan: Series ZZZZZ and Other Pictures
Tomato House proudly presents “Series ZZZZZ and other Pictures,” the first New York exhibition by artist and avant-garde cartooning legend Michael McMillan. The exhibit is presented in conjunction with the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Fest and will coincide with publication of the catalog “Series ZZZZZ” by PictureBox.
The exhibition focuses on a series of acrylic on board paintings begun in 1999, each a different tone poem about life in a visual memory loop. They take the form of memories real or imagined, yet precisely realized. Men-as-furniture; comic strips heroes as cuckolding bullies; the special wonders of mountain climbing; environment as confounding opponent; each sequence subverts expectations of plot and character, relying on shapes and “moods” (as the artist refers to them) to dictate his quiet, luminous panels. Despite the comic format they are highly crafted and rigorously handmade without any thought of publication.
The paintings are contextualized by important work from McMillan’s 1970’s underground comix; exacting, pointillist drawings with a distinctly modernist take on pulp, science fiction, and the new age era. McMillan describes his comics as one manifestation of his peripatetic creative output: “The real story is: I’m not really a cartoonist. My industrial design background has set me up as a problem solver. To avoid being a dilettante I would immerse myself for a number of years, like a method actor, in each phase of activity: elevator design; electronic component packaging; abstract expressionism; neo-Dada; sculpture; comix; animation; poster design; printmaking. In a sense, I have always been an outsider… A cartoon carpetbagger.”
Born in Pasadena, California in 1933, Michael McMillan received his BS in architecture and industrial design from the University of Southern California in 1955 and worked in architecture and product design while painting on the side. In 1968 McMillan completed an MFA in Sculpture at San Francisco State. Chicago art group the Hairy Who’s 1969 exhibition at the Art Institute of San Francisco inspired McMillan with their cartoon imagery and clever wordplay. Chancing on Zap # 1 at City Lights Bookstore he thought, “why not try this.” He approached Zap publisher Don Donahue, and was surprised to be accepted- 1971’s Terminal Comics #1 would be McMillan’s comics debut. Primary drawing influences were the Hairy Who, the solid rounded forms of Harold Gray and harsh geometries of Chester Gould, as well as the naïve early Batman and Superman comics. McMillan contributed to publications including Young Lust, Arcade, Weirdo, and Lemme Outta Here. He also made his own films, sculpted, designed posters for the DeYoung Museum and, in the late 1970s, worked on a series of animations with Victor Moscoso. McMillan remains in the Bay Area, pursuing printmaking full time.
Tomato House, Brooklyn. November 9 – December 8, 2012