Thomas Lyon Mills

Professor Emeritus

For more than 25 years Thomas Lyon Mills has painted in the Italian catacombs and numerous European pagan sites. He is represented by the Ricco Maresca 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 US 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 areas of interest

For years Mills has painted in the Italian catacombs and mithraeums, where he is the only non-archeologist with permission to explore and work alone. What does he find underground? Miles of tunnels so silent that he hears his 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 his hand make clicking sounds as they traverse the walls of the silent tunnels.

Mills’s dreams, which he documents in sketchbooks, are often prophetic harbingers of where he needs to explore next. Working for years on his paintings, drawings and prints, he transforms all of his underground sites into one world—one cosmology—on a threshold where the seen and the unseen coexist. Time is elastic, continuous and circular. This is his preferred world, the shadow world of memory, time and dreams.