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The elusive, illusive art of Michael McMillen

July 30, 2011 | 10:00 am

Mcmill "What you see is what you see,” Frank Stella famously declared about his work. Michael McMillen would qualify that: What you see is what you want to see, what you think you see. Visual experience isn’t just a matter of optics. Also thrown into the mix are desire, memory, assumption, expectation, hope.

McMillen, the subject of a retrospective exhibition at the Oakland Museum of California, grew up in Santa Monica. He spent his afternoons as a kid in the workshop of a neighbor who did the special effects for “Frankenstein,” accompanying his father, a scenic artist for television, to the set, or roaming the fading funhouses of Ocean Park Pier. He’s fluent in both the craft and psychology of illusion, and for 40 years it has been a primary ingredient in his work. All of his sculptures, installations and films look older than they are, more weathered, eroded, experienced.

“I wanted to make things that appeared to have had a previous life,” he says. “I wanted to imply that they had a history, that there was a story there.”

 Read a profile of artist Michael McMillen.

— Leah Ollman

Mixed-media artist Michael C. McMillen sits among items he has collected throughout the years at his home and studio in Santa Monica. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times.