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Painting Nature on San Francisco Walls : Lindsey Millikan

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The “Artist You Should Know” series highlights Bay Area artists who are doing incredible work, it’s our way of supporting the creative community and helping to keep San Francisco a strange and wonderful place. 

Most San Franciscans will recognize her work in an instant.  Her large scale murals are on major streets in SF and Oakland.  Personally, I enjoy a bit of marine life on concrete, it reminds us city slickers of the greater world outside of our little peninsula.   Millikan paints far more than the sea, as you’ll see bellow, and if you are thinking of having your apartment painted into a biosphere, she should be your fire call.


Artist Name: Lindsey Millikan
Insta: @milli_art 

Medium(s):  Paint. For murals that can be anything from latex house paint, acrylics to aerosol.  For fine art studio work it is usually more oil paint and acrylic.  

BAS: Where’s the most creative spot in the Bay Area
LM: “Oakland.”

Debbie’s place aka ‘The Jungle House’ in the Castro.

How does someone decide on getting their house painted like a jungle, and do you give tours?
Your referencing Debbie’s place on Church St between 22nd and 23rd. She is really passionate  about the rainforest preservation. The original mural was commissioned from Nicolai Larsen in  1992. Debbie was looking to have a new mural painted in 2014 and tapped Prairie Prince to do  a new reimagining. Prairie reached out to Nicolai (who had since retired) and received his blessing.

 Nicolai’s work is seen in the background scenes. Prairie brought on myself and Amandalynn to assist in the painting of the mural. Morgan Raimond did the metal work on the  roof and fencing. Prairie and I did a tour for a group of undergrad students once. At the time  there was a local pre-school that brought all these adorable toddlers by on their walk a few  times a week. They would point and identify the various animals and plants with their teachers.  It’s pretty fun for them since we hid quite a few Easter eggs in there. 

I’m a sophisticated graduate with a BFA or Fuck Art School?
I wish that the answer was as succinct as the question. I have a BFA and MFA, so I went as far  as one could go in terms of higher education. I also am a firm believer in constantly staying  intellectually curious, my on-the-job education continues always. My opinions of formal art  education are more complex. I’m all for growing and learning in whatever methods work for the  individual. Is higher education the answer for everyone? Probably not. What I learned in my few  years in undergraduate and graduate school would have probably taken me decades through  other means. That being said, was it worth the lifelong student loan debt? It’s a great question  that I internally debate all the time. 

Kara Walker was recently saying in an interview with Art21 that the pressure to conform to a  particular grad school pedigree is problematic. It’s a reality that artists are selling work in order  to pay back massive debt from these MFA programs. And she goes into how you have to  prioritize critical discourse over objects or products and you make it happen in the place that  you can.  

OIL ON LIVE EDGE KOA WOOD SLAB by Lindsey Millikan OIL ON WOOD, by Lindsey Millikan

That resonates with my personal views immensely. It touches on both the fucked up circle that  these accredited schools create where they attract students, charge an exorbitant tuition in  overcrowded in-person classes and in-debt those students without giving them resources or a  network to succeed in the art world. Simultaneously, these schools rely heavily on incredibly  underpaid adjunct professors…who are usually very recent graduates of the very program they  are now employed to be instructors of. We haven’t even touched on how online courses are  designed and monetized.  

Apartment turned Octopus, by Lindsey Millikan

This is a whole conversation unto itself. But before I throw a grenade at any teaching  opportunity in higher ed I may still want to pursue in the future, let me redirect to Walkers  statement about creating critical discourse in the space you have access to. That’s murals.  That’s why murals matter. Public art is essential to modern discourse. Our visual landscape  informs our mindset. Canaries in the coal mine aren’t worth much when they are relegated only  to a wealthy collector’s private residence. However, those collectors, can play a major role in  financing that artist who creates those public artworks. See what I mean? It’s complicated.  

Lindsey Millikan was the lead artist of this Super Hero Mural #4 in partnership with Attitudinal Healing Connection and Hoover Elementary School.

Oakland Super Hero Mural Project (mural 4). One of many MASSIVE public murals in Oakland.

What’s your most recent favorite project?
2020 was quite the year of ups and downs. I started the year finishing a massive commission  for a wonderful SF gallery and restaurant that was expanding to a new location when the  pandemic hit. That commission hasn’t been seen by anyone and it’s a huge bummer. People  will see it eventually I hope down the line. I painted 35 individual academic paintings that  create one large salon style wall installation. It’s all about oysters and their tasting notes from  all over the world. I put a lot of research into it and I think it came out just beautiful and exactly  as I envisioned it. I hope to share it one day in some capacity. I cranked out quite a few large  commissions as well as several public art pieces and some smaller works for galleries and for  my own website. I assisted on a piece that is permanently installed at SFO but haven’t had a  chance to see it in it’s formal glory either.

Like many, I was dramatically impacted by the COVID19 pandemic. I thought I was on an upswing at the beginning of the year and I was  completely sidelined for a bit when so many projects were halted. But then work came back  like a tidal wave and I just tried to hold on, keep my head above water and give back.  

BAS: Where’s the most creative spot in the Bay Area
LM: “Oakland.”

Explain this image:

This mural is at the Museum of Illusions at Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s a place you (ehem…tourists)  go and take photos of themselves in these murals that are painted with forced perspective that  give the optical illusion that you are interacting directly with the mural. This is a tourists photo  of their child just chilling with their balloon as they are seemingly being devoured by a shark… as one does, I guess. It’s amusing. This mural was started by Cass Womack who had to leave  halfway through before it was complete. Another artist was working on trying to finish it and  was really struggling with it and completing their own murals on time. I was painting another  mural for them and they pulled me on this one to finish it out and finesse it under the direction  of the arts management team there. So it’s a bit of a amalgamation of many hands. 

The historic Mitchell Brothers Theater on O’Farrell.

Did the Mitchell Brothers Complain that whales were probably not the most inviting imagery to  have on a strip club?  

No. They chose it. This was all decided long before my time working on it. This is the first mural I worked on while still in grad school and it was part of a class, so I was definitely not a part of  the design phase on this one. People have really enjoyed it over the past ten years as far as I’ve heard. And it’s probably not going to live on much longer now that the building has recently  sold. I remember being at the Tamale Lady’s birthday party at Zeitgeist where someone wanted  to tell me how much it positively impacted them on the grueling early morning commute on  their bike. Those stories are great. Check murals out when you can- this is one of five of my  large scale ones that is probably on its last days since the businesses have shuttered due to  the pandemic. I wish painting on the side of strip club was the weirdest places I’ve painted. It’s  not!  

Cockscomb, SF.

Are you the artist to go to if someone needs a huge cock painted on their wall? 

Stale dick joke! Funny stuff. But yes, I did paint the text from right to left to avoid this being  yelled at me while on the scissor lift. I am proud of this one. It’s also probably also going to be  a short-lived one unfortunately. The restaurant announced it’s permanent closure due to the  pandemic this past Fall. Chris Constentino and I came up with this idea after some back and  forth and partnered with Paint the Void to finance it. This was pretty early in the pandemic  shutdowns when we weren’t sure what was going on so we had to be really quick. I knocked  this out in three days which is crazy. Joevic Yeban assisted me on this one for a few hours so  we could get the work and then get back home. Working on the street when it was empty like  that right near the ballpark that’s usually packed was bizarre. I was really hoping to dine at  Cockscomb once it reopened, besides it’s incredible menu- Chris had gone to great effort to  make it an amazing place with multiple works by Jeremey Fish, Nate Van Dyke and Sam Flores. 

Any SF artists you think are particularly outstanding right now?  

I think a lot of artists I admire in SF are being quieter publicly as they are reflecting on where  their work will go from here. 2020 was a game changer for so many.  

Wendy MacNaughton is always crushing it. She has an immediacy and confidence in her color  handling and line work that I think is a rare find. She also is unapologetic in her approach to her  craft and continual growth as an illustrator. She’s one I look up to in terms of her versatility in  successfully managing multiple income streams as a self-employed full-time artist as well as  her unfailing support of other excellent creatives. She’s a badass.  

Wendy and Stuart collaborated on an article back in 2011.

BiP’s public works in SF are really inspiring to see the contemporary realism and rendering of  form one can do in aerosol coupled with powerful messaging. I just drove by his Cop Baby  work again recently and stopped to take it in again. I stopped by and watch while he was  making it. It’s really masterful.  

BiP’s ‘Baby Cop’ in SF.

Are there any good online galleries? Or sites to get your art fix?  

I think all galleries are probably really re-evaluating their online presence particularly after this  past year where people could only see work online or by appointment. It’s another area where  the artists and art market took a huge hit. One local gallery that did an amazing job with their  most recent show was Faultline Artspace in Oakland. Curators Felicia Ann and Mario Navasero  set up a virtual 360 tour of the gallery in addition to the traditional photographs/shop and IG  Live Video where they introduced each work. They also made a book that is available for  purchase of all the works in the show. I had a painting in that show alongside a lot of great  pieces by wonderful womxn from the Bay Area. Another I would recommend that I just started  partnering with is Wescover. I really like their mapping feature and have it integrated on my  website. They have been really cool to me so far and they feature a lot of great artists and  craftsman.  

Favorite Street Art right now?  

On instagram: @hungryghoststudio– true Bay Area gem making magic, @bmike2c– incredible  artist in New Orleans who is changing the world, @fintan_magee– always elevating the game on  large scale works, @anateresafernandez– I live in the Outer Sunset right by the beach and she  has been making several small scale public installations on the Great Highway over the past  year that resonate with the times and create an important dialogue. 

You can follow Lindsey Millikan on Instagram @milli_art, and peruse her artwork

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Alex Mak - Managing Editor

Alex Mak - Managing Editor

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