Artist in Residence: A Caribbean Mosaic in Oregon

Joachim McMillan uses oils to spice up the Oregon art scene

The blue-grey cityscape marked by tilted squares of sunlight and scarlet umbrellas does not exist, but Joachim McMillan will take you there nonetheless. He will introduce you to a thousand dancing women he has never met and take you out to sea on a sailboat he has never sailed.

“All of my work is imaginative,” says McMillan, a Beaverton resident who has been painting since he was a boy growing up in the Caribbean. “There is no specific place or subject. Everything comes together from my experiences, like different seasonings.”

A child of Grenada, the “island of spices,” McMillan is entirely self-taught, and his style, eclectic. His most outstanding scenes blend a complete image with fragmentation and sectioning lines in a style he calls “oil mozayic.” The result is a recognizable motif that renders his paintings familiar yet distinct.

After getting his feet wet painting beach scenes in watercolor and acrylic for local shops in Grenada, McMillan put painting on hold and took the long way to Oregon. He first made a break for New York at age 21, eventually finding work as a semiconductor technician for Intel in Massachusetts. The rapid pace of the city left little time for art.

“When I first came to New York, I wasn’t painting at all,” he says. “It was never on my mind. I would do one or two paintings a year, just to keep in touch with myself, but that was it.” He considers himself lucky to have found an opportunity in Oregon during a restructuring at Intel in 2005.

Once settled, his urge to paint resurfaced.

“Portland broke me out,” he recalls. “I decided to start painting again because of the galleries.” He cites Portland’s First Thursday monthly art walk in the Pearl District as being particularly cathartic. “It fosters the artwork— seeing all these people walking from gallery to gallery. That sent me back to the drawing board.”

Cannon Beach, Mt. St. Helens and the drive along Highway 26 quickly became his muses.

With newfound spirit and a palette knife in hand, McMillan began testing different styles, working extensively with long strokes of thick paint to portray a sense of action. Those early efforts earned him a 2005 showing at the Gallerie René in downtown Portland, effectively marking the start of a professional career still defined by experimentation.

McMillan makes frequent trips to galleries on the coast, with current showings at the Modern Villa Gallery in Cannon Beach, Silver Heron in Depoe Bay and Ryan Gallery in Lincoln City. His work can also be found at the Forever Art gallery in downtown Portland.

McMillan’s paintings were recently shown at the 2013 Ann Arbor Art Fair in Michigan, and he has enjoyed dozens of similar opportunities in places such as Naples, Toronto and Chicago. His life story and personality add intrigue at events where he is showing his work. His accent is distinct and pleasant, he speaks frankly and punctuates most sentences with a smile.

“I’m a Rasta man,” he says, lifting his hat to reveal dreadlocks that he has since cut. “For a lot of people, my Caribbean background is part of the experience. It appeals to them. Then people see Beaverton, and that turns heads. They say, ‘Wow, this is the art that comes from Oregon?’”

Photo by Aubrie LeGault

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