Portrait of an Artist: Jill Wissmiller

The Gilding of Lily / Jill Wissmiller / Video projected on glitter screen (2:50 minutes), 2011 / Collection of the artist
The Gilding of Lily / Jill Wissmiller / Video projected on glitter screen (2:50 minutes), 2011 / Collection of the artist

Q: Where are you from, and where do you live now?

A: I grew up in a tiny central Illinois farm town called Cooksville. Well, actually, it’s a village. The “ville” has a population of 150, tall topsoil, and abundant characters. It’s been 20 years since I left and I’d now return to my homeland in a heartbeat. Nah, y’all can never mind that adoring notion. You can/will find me gladly glued to the gooey rich characters and sticky scene of Memphis, Tennessee.

Q: What medium(s) do you work with?

A: Whatever gets the job done . . . the medium is the message . . . form equals content . . .

Q: Can you tell us about your technique/creative process?

A: I make a lot of work, and I work a lot. A lot of this work is not great, but it has to get made to get me further down my path and on to the good. I think of the not-so-great work as training/experiments, and often these experiments are later integrated into successful projects.

It is a luxury that the final output of my work is generally projected digital video, as it makes the hoarding of these experiments easy, though it is at times hard to let go of the physical components utilized to make them happen.

Q: How did you find out about the competition?

A: My art historian friend Adrian Duran sent the notice to me as a joke, I believe. He said, “Why don’t you send some glitter to the Smithsonian, Wissmiller?” Well, I had a pretty bad year in 2012. I was shaking off a lot of rejections and figured I needed to reset my luck. It seems like I just might have.

Q: What are you currently working on?

A: One of the best things about this portrait competition has been daydreaming about the possibility of being awarded first prize. After all, the big winner is commissioned to create a portrait of a remarkable living American.

This prospect led to many lively debates among friends and one very interesting dream relayed to me by that same art historian who forwarded me the announcement. He described to me a scenario where Oprah and I arrived on the front lawn of a house party in a convertible. Oprah was driving. Well, it was then settled. Oprah would be my remarkable living American.

Ends up, Oprah will have to wait for now. I’m out of the running as the big winner for this competition, but I am the victor up and running with a new commission from the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis of an indeed remarkable living American. Hazel G. Moore is the focus of my current creative efforts. I am designing the surface of this portrait out of mustard seeds as Ms. Moore truly exemplifies that little can become much. She tells a story of what needs to happen in Memphis and strategizes to make it happen. She inspires you to work what you have.

I am very energized by the possibilities of this project. I know it will be amazing or a huge flop. There will be no in-between. The stakes have been set and they mean something —a signal for change in my own approach to community.

Q: Can you tell us about a seminal experience you have had as an artist?

A: I’m hoping this experience proves powerful and will be added high on my list, near my involvement with the phenomenal Muriel Magenta. Muriel Magenta changed my brain. She blew my mind. The end. She gave me my first introduction into the wonderful world of video art and later pushed me out of the nest and got me started on my path.

Q: Who is your favorite artist?

A: Mmmmmmm . . . Favorite? I hope to experience a ton more art firsthand before I make this call . . . but . . . if I had to declare a kind of last supper of art, currently I would consume the quilts of Gee’s Bend—specifically, the memorial quilt Missouri Pettway made with her husband’s work clothes.

Q: If you could work with any artist (past or present) who would it be?

A: Paul McCarthy.

Q: What is your favorite artwork?

A: Please add Luis Jiménez’s, Southwest Pieta, installed at Arizona State University, to my last supper menu.

Q: What inspires you?

A: The travel part of traveling. Especially the bus and train—not so much the plane. Talking to strangers. Feeding my friends. Roller skating and riding my Ruckus. Parades.