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Meet the Artist: Josh Millis

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Starting April 5, 2012, local artist Josh Millis will be leading a series of watercolor classes for adults 55+ at Jefferson Market Library. These classes, as well as the gallery opening and reception on May 31, are made possible by a grant from Lifetime Arts. In this blog post, Josh tells us a little bit about his own experiences with art and teaching and gives us some great book recommendations!

Can you tell us a little bit about your background in art? How long have you been painting?

I've been painting for about 15 years. I began making art relatively late — when I was 19. I took a year off of college, after just my first semester. When I returned, I took a drawing class and never looked back! I left to study in Rome a year later. After Rome, I transferred to Tyler School of Art in Philly, where I earned a BFA and a minor in Art History. Then I was off to The School of The Art Institute of Chicago for graduate work.

That all was the formal training, but as a kid, I enjoyed building and creating in my room and outside in nature. I just never thought of it as art — probably because I never knew what it meant to be an artist. I came to love art as something that one can do with virtually no resources, money, or even materials — spit and dirt on the ground, no one can take away the impulse, one does not need an employer to practice it, and it is a sublime way to learn about the world.

You will be teaching a watercolor painting class for seniors at Jefferson Market Library through Lifetime Arts what do you like about working with older students?

Even as a "teacher" among "students," I consider myself an artist. In other words, I savor my teaching experiences as learning experiences. I learn so much from my students, regardless of their age. Most of my time has been spent with 30-year-olds and younger. I look forward to learning from older generations that have seen so much. New York City is an organism of endless wonder. Not only will I have the opportunity to learn about such a special neighborhood from residents who have witnessed great change, but I can also play a role in their visual processing of it. Wow!

Some of the subject matter you'll be working from in the class is the Jefferson Market Library and other Village-area landmarks. Have you used particular places as inspiration in any of your previous work?

Historically, most of my work has grown out of domestic interiors. The images revolved around ideas of the way we live and relate to particular spaces. Every once in a while my work is inspired by specific places. I travel quite a bit, and other types of architecture — particularly handmade structures — appeal to my artistic sensibilities. Meaningful landscapes sometimes figure into my work as well. I jump around a lot in terms of subject matter and motivation!

Our patrons are big readers! Do you have an all-time favorite book? Read anything recently that you can recommend?

I can't pick one favorite. However, I am always looking for an epic novel to match up against Clavell's Shogun or Michener's The Source. I read The Power Broker not long ago — a must read for every New Yorker. Laurence Bergreen's Over the Edge of the World was fascinating. I also think Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine should be required reading in high school, as should be Douglas Blackmon's Slavery By Another Name. I jump around in terms of my books too!

I also must ask who are your favorite artists?

That changes almost every day! Lucian Freud may have been my first love, but others over the years include Paula Rego, Alice Neel, James Castle, Luc Tuymans, Ben Shahn, Kathe Kollwitz, Kerry James Marshall, and virtually all Japanese printers of the 17th and 18th centuries. Lately, I've really been enjoying Tim Hawkinson. Of course, I am incredibly energized by the work of my students! I think Jimi Hendrix and Robin Williams are not only totally mesmerizing, but also epitomize the artistic spirit — endless exploration, experimentation, the absorption of their surroundings into their art, and an utter joy for creating.

Thank you Josh!

Creative Aging in Our Communities: The New York City Libraries Project, a program of Lifetime Arts Inc, is generously supported by the Fan Fox and Leslie R. Samuels Foundation, with additional support from the Laura Jane Musser Fund, and is administered in partnership with Brooklyn Public Library and New York Public Library.

Pre-Registration is required for A Village Vision: Watercolor Painting through Experience. Registration begins March 22, in person, or by phone at 212-243-4334. Participants must be able to attend all sessions. A gallery opening and reception will be held May 31 at 3:30 p.m., and is open to family, friends, and the general public.

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