RICHARD KIRK MILLS
CONCRETE JUNGLE, Trailside Caption for Teaneck Creek Conservancy, recycled highway concrete debris, 2004
I always relied upon both the solace and joy offered
by my connection to and observation of the natural world. The presence of nature’s
light and textures, rhythms, and webs of mystery -- and my delight in all her
diversity -- have sustained me through the years. I attribute my sensitivity to
place -- and in particular “the wet landscape”-- to my first happy years in East Rockaway, on
an estuary on the south
Starting literally in my backyard, my work evolved into an activist aesthetic that attempts to reconnect people to places (and hence, stewardship) through a public art process of responsive interpretation, education and community engagement. I began to research local environmental, topographic and cultural place histories, which formed the basis for my new work. I expanded my printmaking skills into the digital realm with layered, collaged narratives with text. These were sited outdoors in damaged and recovering public places. I assembled digital archives: historic maps and atlases, aerial and satellite images, photos, postcards, oral histories, newspaper articles, essays on local biota, transportation history, early settlement patterns, land use deals, fisheries reports, census records, anything I could find to reveal the drama of unplanned growth’s effects on our environment. I included newly found skills as a presenter before regulatory agencies as part of an aesthetic arsenal. I saw the shift from a go-it-alone mentality of the studio/gallery system to an emphasis on a collaborative approach with all segments of the local community-- as well as technical and aesthetic partnerships with artists, design professionals, funders, grant writer, and planning officials -- as a major shift in approach to the landscape. The practical realities of establishing community credibility, of starting at home -- answering Lucy Lippard’s call to heed the lure of the local -- were my new direction. For artists this is a model worth considering.
As Teaneck Creek Conservancy artist in residence for 6 years, I have worked with the local education, environmental and arts communities and state and county governments on a team of artists, landscape architects, engineer, grant writer, funders and urban wetlands scientists to reclaim and re-story this 46-acre former NJ landfill. A 1.2 mile trail system, a narrative and place responsive art program are among components we envisioned. Concrete Jungle captions one of many piles of highway concrete debris dumped on site. Artists working at the Conservancy continue to recycle this dumped “NJ Rubblestone”.
Nearly two million dollars has been raised to build trails, outdoor classrooms, interpretive art and wetlands restoration.
in NYC 1947, Mills graduated from C.C.N.Y. with a MFA in painting. He currently
is a professor at