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Tactile element to work

Posted: 11am 05 May 2021

Artist Stephen Mills thrives on playing with colour and texture, which will be on show in abundance during his exhibition at the Old Fire Station Gallery this month.

The exhibition, titled Elements, will showcase his mixed media pieces from May 12 to June 6.

The Caboolture resident considers himself an experimental artist, someone who enjoys developing different techniques to bring a painting to life.

He loves using bright colours and giving his work an added element through texture.

“To me it means using lots, and lots, and lots of different techniques in the one work,” Mills said.

Using broadbrush, crisscrossed strokes, Stephen Mills works quickly as he paints the background for a piece he’s creating on his dining room table.

At the same time, he’s talking about his deeply personal connection with art and how it has saved him - more than once.

While he’s working and talking, his mind is shifting up a gear as he grabs an old tomato sauce bottle filled with white-grey paint and starts adding long curved lines that will soon resemble flower stems.

Some of the experimental techniques he uses include using plastic wrap and toothbrushes to apply paint, changing the consistency of the paint with water and ink, letting the paint run by standing the painting up before it dries and even dropping objects on a piece from a height.

“I’ve never been a conformist, I don’t like being part of the herd. I like the concept that I can actually go and play with paint and get a great deal of joy out of watching other people’s reaction to what I do,” Mills says.

“Texture adds a feeling to my work that I can’t get any other way. When the right lighting is on the painting, the painting actually changes (during the day). You get these lovely shadows and the shadows create another level of experience in the painting.”

Fate intervenes

While there are painters and poets in Mills’ family, he didn’t know he could paint until he found himself in an art class as part of his rehabilitation following a serious car crash in 2005.

“I broke six vertebrae in my back, lower back, managed to get home, woke up the next morning and couldn’t get out of bed. I spent the next seven or eight months in hospital. They told me I wasn’t going to walk again,” he recalls.

“I’m a stubborn bugger, I’m a scorpio and I really won’t take no for an answer. Therefore, I pushed myself and pushed myself … I went through a process where I had a walking frame and (then) I had two walking sticks. I can get around quite well now.

Art classes were part of his rehabilitation, designed to stimulate the nerves in his hands as he’d lost feeling in them.

It started with gluing items on boards, which Stephen grew tired of pretty quickly.

“I went and bought some cheap acrylic paints. I was painting the textures on and gluing things on and building textures onto the boards,” he explains.

First sale

His teacher bought a piece from him for $20. It was seen by one of her friends who commissioned Mills to create a larger painting for him, and the former landscape gardener realised he might be onto something.

He did watercolour classes, but his teacher suggested he try acrylics, and Mills started experimenting.

“I find the thing with painting … it gives me joy. If I didn’t sell a painting, it wouldn’t bother me but I do sell them. I think the whole thing comes down to putting stuff on exhibition and letting people look at it and saying wow,” he says.

“When I paint, I’m not in pain and most of the time I’m in pain. My brain tends to go to a different place, so I find that if I paint I don’t ache,” he says.

“Often if I wake up in the middle of the night and my back is killing me, I’ll get up and paint. Even if I just put a background on a canvas, it puts me at a different level of relaxation and I can clean up, go back to bed, get a couple of hours sleep and come out and it’s dry. Then I can play…”

Mills’ art trolley is organised, but he says the art process has to go out of control at some point to be truly creative.

“Because then it’s free. If you restrict yourself to doing the same thing every day for the rest of your life, it’s pretty boring. I don’t really have a plan in my head before the top comes off that sauce bottle and I start to think where am I going to put the first drop of paint. Once that first drop goes on, I don’t stop until I’ve stopped,” he says.

Exhibition and workshop

In conjunction with the exhibition, Mills is running a workshop, called Painting Sky with Attitude, on May 16, at Redcliffe Art Society’s workshop space at the gallery. It is suitable for any level of artistic ability. Bookings are essential. Phone 3284 0852.

The gallery is at 395 Oxley Ave, Redcliffe. Visit



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