Jeff McMillan on Living in Long Beach and Painting with the Greats

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Photos by Asia Morris.

In celebration of all things POW! WOW! Long Beach, from the outdoor muralists—who began transforming blank walls throughout the city earlier this week—to the artists currently installing their work inside the Long Beach Museum of Art’s (LBMA) upcoming exhibit Vitality and Verve: Transforming the Urban Landscape, the Post reached out to several of these world-class creatives who have been working to change and inspire the landscape of Long Beach’s art scene as a whole, indoors and out.

Today we feature Jeff McMillan, the sole artist representing our beauteous Long Beach among the world-acclaimed creatives who traveled to our seaside city to prettify the place. This artist is of a humble variety, as easy going as they come and was silenced several times by the painters helping him with the mural just so they could brag about his talent because they knew he never would. Most recently, the artist has been working with RVCA and before that, was featured in the LBMA’s Masterworks exhibition.

The humble one, who has been tirelessly painting an oddly curved wall between the Convention Center and the Hyatt hotel since Tuesday, introduced me to his dog, Kelso, and was more than happy to hang out under the hot sun as I berated him with questions.

Post: So tell me about these birds…

Jeff McMillan: The birds are here because my first sketch was denied. It was of a Siamese cat coming out of a bamboo forest. It was going to be sniffing this little sleeping bigfoot next to a campfire. He wasn’t going to eat him. He was just going to sniff him. Maybe eat him. They said, ‘Oh it looks kind of ominous,’ ‘Well, it kind of is.’ I guess it was kind of dark and almost foreboding maybe.

But, birds are good, though. Especially in this area it was kind of good that they denied that one because I thought about it, ‘Well, there’s like a wildlife preserve over there so it actually makes sense for the convention center, for the hotel, for where it is. They had foresight.

You seem pretty easy going as artist, as far as your vision is concerned.

Well I was trained as an illustrator so you have very, very thick skin as far as changing things up. Easy going in that facet. I’m just used to doing re-dos, so that’s okay.

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Can you talk a little bit about your process?

Yea, we sketch it out first. And the way that we’re doing it is like a sketch, too. None of us have ever used spray paint. This is our first time. We have no idea what we’re doing. Now we have somewhat of an idea. We projected it, spray painted it, and we’re all amazed it went up so fast. Then we just started laying stuff in.

This is all a learning process. We really don’t know what we’re doing. But it’s fun though, because I like to challenge myself and find out new ways to do stuff and find out how do them more efficiently, and it usually takes a day to figure stuff out. So it’s fun, I like doing it that way.

I’ve done some indoor murals that were… did Justin Timberlake’s bathroom. That was all a black and white mural and it was about eight feet by 36 feet unraveled. So I’m kind of used to the scale, but this is a whole new scale, totally different.

What were your first thoughts when you were approached to do this mural?

I was ecstatic. I’ve known about POW! WOW! for a long time and thought, ‘Oh, I’ve got to do this.’ I was thrilled to be asked. And even though I didn’t really know what I was going to do or how I was going to do it, I was like, you know, ‘Of course I’ll do it, I’ll figure it out as I’m doing it.’

I’ll just wing it. It usually works out in my favor. Ninety percent of the time it works out in my favor. The other ones that don’t work out, I don’t really talk about them too much.

Also, with POW! WOW!, though, it’s very intimidating because the talent here is just crazy. These guys have been doing it for so long, they really know what they’re doing. Like James Jean, he’s just a master at everything.

I have to say though, everyone here is incredibly nice. And you kinda think about it, they have no reason to be. And maybe it’s in terms of Jasper, just working with really nice people. Everyone seems like they’re really cool. It’s good for the city. This is just awesome for Long Beach. Being a resident here, I love this stuff.

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Where are you from originally?

San Jose. Well, Campbell, but San Jose, pretty much. Moved to LA in 2001. Poked around in LA until 2007 then moved to Long Beach. Well the reason was Irvine; thought I was going to hang myself. My wife works for UC Irvine, so we didn’t know where we were going to go and I just did so much complaining that it just worked in my favor. I mean, I really put in my work, I really complained like every day. And then we were like, well Long Beach is where it’s going to be at because it’s halfway to LA for me, it’s halfway to Irvine for her.

I mean, this sounds bad, but I just wanted to see a homeless person. I wanted to see like, dog shit on the ground or litter. Not that I want to see those things, but it’s just a sense of humanity. Irvine is beautiful, but it’s just too beautiful. There’s no culture. There’s nothin’ there. So coming here, there’s a living breathing heartbeat here, everything’s here.

There’s so much talent here and creative people here and people collaborating on stuff, taking pictures. There are tons of people who are interested in art. Long Beach is awesome; we’ve been happy with it since we’ve moved here.

Are there any artists you were especially interested in seeing again or meeting for the first time?

Well Tristan, I’d never met him before. And Nychos, I’d never met him before. I know Madsteez just from emails, but I don’t know him in person.

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Who would be your dream artist to collaborate with?

If I do this again I’d like to collaborate with somebody and work on a really big wall. Eric White is one of my favorite artists of all time. I don’t think he spray paints, though. Nychos is awesome, I like him a lot, I love what he paints. Craola would be another awesome one, but these guys are way out of my league as far as like talent and what they’ve done.

I’m a newbie on the scene, but I think collaborating with somebody just as big as that, I would learn so much. I think it’s one little thing that would just rocket launch me into a whole new sector. Like, okay now I would know what I’m doing. Because you learn the most just by watching people. If I get asked back again, for wherever it is, I’d love to do a really big wall together.

Hieronymus Bosch if he was still alive.

To learn more about the artist, visit his website here and follow him on Instagram @jeffmcmillanart.

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Asia Morris has been with the Long Beach Post for five years, specializing in coverage of the arts. Her parents gave her the name because they wanted her to be a world traveler and they got their wish. She has obliged by pursuing art, journalism and a second career as a competitive cyclist.