Stephen Millner

The Japanese words Honne (what we truly believe in our soul) and Tatemae (what we pretend to believe so that others will like us) have special relevance for the artist. We are often programmed in childhood toward Tatemae—to alter our creative aspirations so as to be popular rather than to give unfettered freedom to our creative inspirations. I am grateful to my parents, who encouraged me to express my creativity honestly (Honne), by not imposing value judgments that might make my art more “normal” or “popular.”

My path as an artist, then, has been to make art that is true to my creative inspiration. As a mixed media artist, I utilize a wide variety of materials, most of them recycled: discarded wrapping paper, newspaper and magazine clippings, maps, advertising, photographs, envelopes, signs, stickers, stamps, tags, hardware, scrap wood, etc. Often, a new piece of art begins when an item grabs my attention and demands to be used as the beginning of a mixed media work.

When this occurs, the item or image becomes the seed of a work of art. This seed may trigger a memory, make an association, or ask a question—taking on meaning beyond its literal components.

Often, the developing work of art will put the item in a new context and expand or alter its meaning. Each additional element becomes more critical in terms of color, balance, design, and visual interest, until the work is complete. Of course, other choices are made to finish the work: organization, composition, and color come into play. In fact, the initial inspiration for the art may play only a minor role in the completed work, or may even be obliterated by subsequent layers. How fascinating that my completed art is inspired by a small piece of paper or ephemera. Even though this first element placed on the canvas may, in the end, be unimportant compositionally, as the original inspiration for the work, it lays claim to the art’s totality and meaning.