I first came across Matt Mills’ art through a beer can label from one of my favorite breweries a while back. Of course, I looked him up and have been following his trippy visuals on Instagram ever since. I reached out to the man himself to learn more, so click below for the Q&A.
Thanks for taking the time out to do this. Please give us a little background info on yourself.
Hey, my name is Matt Mills, born near the end of the disco era in 1978, and am currently living in Austin, Texas. Growing up I spent time in Tennessee, Virginia, California, and Pennsylvania. I was always a pretty quiet kid and spent a lot of time listening to music, drawing, riding bikes, and playing video games. Growing up, I never really had aspirations for a creative career. I had always lived in nice suburban areas and everyone I knew graduated from high school, went to college, partied for five years, then got boring jobs. So that’s what I did. It wasn’t until after I had been working in a software gig for a few years that the creative muse started tapping me on the shoulder. I had stumbled upon a site called deviantART late one night and ended up getting super intrigued by the 3D rendered stuff I was seeing. I ended up downloading cracked versions of Maya and Photoshop and I was hooked. Creating was my new drug. I spent every waking hour, while not at work, making weird shit on my computer. After four or five years, I got good enough that I was offered a job at Disney’s new video game studio in Austin. But, there was a catch. I was to come on board and help them with their website and IT stuff, then move into an artist role. Well, life happened. I was married, my daughter was born, and priorities shifted. I made the conscious decision to stick with software and IT assuming that it would be a more financially viable career path for my family and I. No doubt, it was. I had duct taped the muse and buried her alive. Bad idea. After about five years of not really creating any art, she exploded out of that shallow grave with an intensity I had not felt before. I dove back into making artwork. This time with a renewed sense of inspiration, almost like there was some sort of artistic force flowing through me, not necessarily being created by me. In my free time, I started spending a lot of time experimenting with Photoshop and 3D software again. Which basically leads us to where I am today. Still working a 9-5 software gig to support the wife and kids. But, also creating my own personal artwork on the side and doing a bunch of freelance creative work for the music and entertainment industries. I have a renewed creative drive and am hoping to eventually make the jump to doing the creative work full time. This time, no catch.
I enjoy staring at your trippy Instagram posts when a new one pops up, ha. If someone has never seen your work, how would you describe the art/visuals you create?
I’d call it a form of deceptively complex geometric abstractionism. It’s an amalgamation of 2D and 3D abstract art styles mixed retro psychedelic undertones. A focused combining of shape and color in an attempt to awaken an interdimensional consciousness within the viewer. I think that’s a fairly sufficient description.
I can’t quite pinpoint it, but there’s a retro analog vibe to your images. Is that a fair assessment?
Absolutely. That’s very intentional. When I first started making art on my computer, I’d render everything very clean and shiny. But over time, as I began exploring additional styles and mediums, I began to have an appreciation for art created in the physical world. There’s just something more inviting and interesting about exploring all of the intricate details and textures that physical artwork has. So, I started using different methods to try and achieve that same feel in my digitally created artwork. By adding layers of texture, grit, and muted colors I’ve been able to achieve that retro analog vibe. Almost as if it’s something you just pulled off of a dusty bottom shelf in an old record store.
What is your creative process like? Do you start out seeing the final image in your head, or just start freestyling?
It’s almost entirely freestyled. I’ll usually have a color palette in mind. Or initial shape to start from. But from there, I just put the headphones on and let it flow. For me, music allows me to tap into an uninhibited creative headspace. I have a very large library of 3D shapes, textures, and vector designs that I’ve created over the years. I use a wide variety of software and methods throughout the process to create and combine assets from my library into the final piece of artwork. And, I tend to work fairly fast. Mostly out of necessity, as I usually don’t have the luxury of spending a lot of time creating my artwork. I’ll typically spend a couple of hours on each piece. Tweaking and refining until I’m happy or out of time.
How did you find your creative voice? Can you trace back a certain inspiration?
This is always a difficult question. I feel the artwork I’m creating now is really a culmination of all of my life’s experiences and influences. Art, design, music, drugs, games, and movies. I spent many years just making stuff. Mostly imitating other artists and trying to get a feel for what I liked. Eventually trying to put my own vibe into it. And over time, after having tried a lot of different ways of creating, the voice started to become more and more refined. So, I don’t necessarily remember any one particular inspiration but definitely feel like I’ve taken inspiration from all of the things around me.
Fill us in on your workstation and tools you use?
Ok, as I alluded to before, I use a variety of tools to do what I do. As for hardware, I currently use a custom PC, a MacBook Pro, and my iPhone. The PC is nice, but nothing too crazy. It’s got an Intel 6-core processor, 32GB RAM, an NVIDIA 980Ti video card driving two 27” monitors, and a bunch of SSD hard drives. I use that mostly for the 3D stuff. I’m also using a MacBook Pro (from 2012) that still kicks ass and lets me get shit done when I can’t (or don’t want to) be at my desk. Then, the iPhone. This thing has kind of been a game changer for me. There are a ton of creative apps out there now which has allowed me to continue creating no matter where I am. I use these apps to quickly and easily create abstract shapes, textures, and designs that I can incorporate into my artwork. Some of the apps I use the most are: Mextures, Glitché, Whorl, Union, Assembly, Circular, and Hyperspektiv.
Back on the computer, I use software including (but not limited to) Photoshop, Cinema 4D, Illustrator, and After Effects to create and combine the pieces of the final artwork. It may sound like a lot, but I’ve been doing it for so long that I can easily flow between the various devices and applications fairly seamlessly. Oh, and Dropbox. It allows me to access my assets from any and all devices. Also a game changer for the way I work.
What would you like people to know about your visuals?
I tend to not say too much about my artwork. For me, what really comes through in the artwork is an emotion or vibe or whatever you want to call it. I like to think about it as my Tyler Durden. If you passed me on the street, you’d probably have no idea I was an artist or created the types of things I create. A tattoo-less, tall, skinny, white guy, button-down shirt, well-trimmed beard, clean jeans and shoes. A responsible adult, if you will. But, put those headphones on and I’m transformed. The suppressed is exposed. The color and emotion kicks open the door and punches me right in the face. It’s as if those euphoric feelings from years back have been lying dormant, just waiting to be awakened. Once awake, I am no longer in control. The artwork is realized through me, but somehow not from me. The emotion is emitted and solidified into its final form for all to see.
I first came across your work via Brouwerij West packaging (which I love). Was that your first time doing beer labels? How was that project?
Yes, beer! Brian Mercer from Brouwerij West had reached out to me after seeing my work on Instagram I believe. They were interested in using my artwork, and I was obviously thrilled. They’ve since used several more of my pieces for labels and other stuff. And this led the way for multiple other companies to reach and want to use my artwork. It’s always very cool to see my work out in the world, not on someones phone or computer. From my point of view, projects like this are ideal. If someone wants to use artwork that I’ve already created, there is a lot less stress on my end. I don’t have to try and visualize a concept they are trying to achieve. My work is done, I can just pass on the final artwork and get paid. Plus, I get beer. So, I can’t complain about that.
Where else can we spot your work?
All of my most recent works get put on Instagram, so if you want to be in the loop, be sure to follow along there. Likewise, I’ve partnered with a new company called ArtGrab where anyone can exclusively license and download my artwork for their uses. I also recently did a project with my friends at Threyda where we created a badass limited edition bomber jacket with artwork by myself and Matt Andres. And, I’ve got prints and t-shirts that I’ve shipped out to people all over the world. So, it’s possible you’ll stumble across it if you run into some of those awesome people. My work has also been used on album covers and gig posters quite a bit so Spotify, iTunes, Soundcloud and your local record shop could be hiding something of mine. Who knows what’s next. I’m starting to do more animation work so you may be seeing some of my stuff at concerts or in commercials.
Outside of visual art, what else keeps you busy on a daily basis?
I eluded to this before, but right now art takes up a very small percentage of my day. The rest is filled with serious adult business. Working a 9-5, trying to be a good dad and husband, walking the dog, taking out the trash, sitting in traffic, and occasionally getting out for a quick bike ride. It’s not an ideal schedule, but it is what it is right now. I’m working on making some moves so if you ask me the same question this time next year, things may be a bit different.
Best way to keep cool during Austin summer?
If you’re one of the cool kids, you’d probably want to be at the Barton Springs Pool or the Hops & Grain taproom. If you’re a semi-responsible parental unit like myself, a good bet would be in an air conditioned theater at the Alamo Drafthouse watching a Disney movie with your kids. Beer in hand of course.
Thanks Matt! Anything to add before we wrap this up?
First, a big thank you. I’m definitely grateful for these opportunities to tell my story and help get the word out about what I do. Second, as you can see, my creative journey has been a long winding road. With periods of time where I was broken down on the side of the road. And I’m still figuring it out. Hopefully, hearing this will be helpful to anyone out there who is trying to figure out their own path. It’s not easy. For me, the key is to enjoy the process of learning and let it take its time. The pieces will fall into place when the time is right.