Experimental and Foundation Studies


Tom Mills

on sabbatical 2015/16

For nearly 20 years Thomas Lyon Mills has painted in the Italian catacombs and numerous European pagan sites. He is represented by the Luise Ross Gallery in New York.  He has exhibited at The Drawing Center in New York, The DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park in Lincoln, MA, The Boston Athenaeum, the Cleveland Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY; the Arkansas Arts Center, Little Rock, AR; and numerous venues in Europe including the American Academy in Rome and the residence of the United States Ambassador in Italy. He has lectured and critiqued at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design; the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville; the Cranbrook Academy of Art, MI; Parsons School of Design, NY; Auburn University, AL; and both Temple University’s and Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute’s programs in Rome. In 1996 he received RISD’s John R. Frazier Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Academic research/ areas of interest

For years I have painted in the Italian catacombs and mithraeums, where I am the only non-archeologist with permission to explore and work alone.  What do I find underground?  Miles of tunnels are so silent that I hear my heartbeat. Skeletons embrace one another in tombs; paintings and carvings form mysterious, iconographic hybrids of an emerging language.  Worm-like creatures with millipede-like legs coexist with 10-inch phosphorescent mantises that glow with green light. Blind spiders the size of my hand make clicking sounds as they traverse the walls of the silent tunnels.

My dreams, which I document in sketchbooks, are harbingers of where I need to explore next.  All of my underground sites are transformed into one world – one cosmology – on a threshold where the seen and the unseen co-exist.  Time is elastic, continuous and circular. This is my preferred world, the shadow world of memory, time and dreams.