At the close of three successful MFA thesis exhibitions at Gallery 400, we highlight the work of graduating MFAs by looking more closely at their individual practices. Timothy McMillan earned a BFA in sculpture from the University of South Florida in 2010. He assembles found objects and materials to create narrative-based sculptures, drawing, and dioramas.
Out Damn Spot in situ at Gallery 400.
Your work is so diverse in its methods, materials, and subject matter—what is the connecting thread? Or is it that you’re drawing our attention to the pitfalls of personal style?
It is difficult to identity one thread that ties my art practice together. Graduate school was a good opportunity to test out as many different ideas as possible and see which ones felt right. In a way, I am leaving graduate school with the start of several potential bodies of work. However, there are loose connections between these seemingly disparate works. I am interested in Americana, masculinity, self-analysis, family lineage, material ingenuity, folk and outsider artists, sports culture, pop culture, myths, fables, metaphors—the list goes on. Not everything has to be connected. I choose not to have any singular personal style. I want to have a few different styles that sometimes overlap.
Tim in his studio in Art & Exhibition Hall at UIC.
In presenting topics such as professional sports as morally ambiguous, how do you want the viewer to engage with your work?
I want them to see how incredibly complicated the broad category of “sports” really is. Sports can be a vehicle for talking about a wide array of social injustices, but that does not mean that there is anything wrong with allowing yourself to enjoy the spectacle. It is the moral juggle that I am investigating. I want the drawings to guide viewers through this investigation in a way that has them searching for understanding, whereas the sculptural work is meant to engage them visually in a more spectacular manner.
Your work pivots between literal and folk practices, and high art and traditional genres. Are you merely critiquing high art, or is there something more in folk art and craftwork that appeals to you?
I am interested in folk and outsider art for very modernist reasons. Jean Dubuffet, Paul Klee, and even Pablo Picasso looked at what they called Art Brut, or folk and naïve art, for inspiration. I am similarly drawn to these works because they are simultaneously naïve and obsessive. They are playful and childlike, yet are created with an intensity and dedication that shows a rare patience. The obsession makes me want to decipher what is often indecipherable. I want to translate this into my practice, but not in a way that is weird for the sake of being weird. To be purely arbitrary is to be passive which is a dangerous stance to take. I can sniff out arbitrariness like shit on a shoe.
What was the most valuable thing you learned while at UIC?
I learned that I am capable of sustaining a prolific art practice on a meager budget and of producing a lot of work in a little amount of time. It was fun.