It’s difficult to discern exactly where the art-historical tradition that inspires the work of Milly Skellington might begin. The concern for new printing techniques interspersed with painterly gestures could recall the reductive efforts of Wade Guyton or the advertorial imagery of Michel Majerus or Laura Owens. Skellington’s involvement is also artistically original but often intentionally minimized. His process and content reflect this ambivalence regarding the artist’s role in crafting work within the broader socio-political and creative culture surrounding artmaking that seems to limit the potential for artistic invention.
In order to produce many of these paintings, Skellington disassembled various printer parts and constructed a machine that would replicate images in a manner that closely resembled an artist’s own hand, yet with obvious technological mediation. It’s difficult to conclude if this reconstruction amounts to a practice that is more or less deskilled than some of his contemporaries, considering that, while Skellington carefully orchestrates the scenarios that create these paintings, the final results are often unexpected within a studio setting that resembles a science fiction trope where robots defy their maker, and artificial intelligence finally comes to life.
As a Los Angeles native, Milly Skellington adopted a gender-ambiguous, Anglo pseudonym to accompany his made-by-the-movies persona, simultaneously a dedication to his hometown Hollywood producers and an irreverent critique of the macho, gestural ethos of modernist painting’s most celebrated icons.
The content often mimics this celebrity status among certain people and historical events. News reels and conspiracy fodder recall moments in contemporary culture when facts seem manipulated and truth-making produces a society of paranoia where being told what to believe often causes more hysteria than comfort. In some cases, Skellington borrows these images from traumatic events of our collective cultural memory, printed from an ink-jet printer and gesso transferred into kaleidoscopic, disorienting interpretations of their originals. Adding his own hand-painted details to these replications further complicates his role in these dizzying compositions. This issue of free will looms large for all of Skellington’s work, and his practice begs the question of painting in general. While Skellington utilizes a contemporary language of image reproduction to challenge his own authorship, his place in a longer painterly tradition questions how many art-historical innovations amount to moments of serious disruption and how much of this narrative constitutes a reorganizing of the culture that already existed.
While the sentience of Skellington’s machines might leave viewers uneasy, a certain optimism could be derived from the sheer originality of his approach. Skellington himself plays with the apparent determinism of contemporary life in a technocracy where the parameters of our discourse dictate the potential personality types that can be pursued, yet his ability to reorchestrate these settings makes it clear that autonomy and automation are not simple oppositions. Within these boundaries there will be parts that can be displaced, innovations within tradition, and mechanisms that can be reordered.
Milly Skellington (b. 1993, Los Angeles) studied at Goldsmith College in London and Otis College in Los Angeles. His work has appeared in exhibitions at El Clasificado Space in Los Angeles, New Space Lewisham in London, and Cody Wycoff Space in Brooklyn, NY. This is his first solo show at Hyacinth Gallery.