by Mia McKenzie
Millan Gabriel Figueroa is a shit-starter. It’s one of the reasons I like him. He can be counted on to have your back when it’s time to call out some gentrifier for his bullshit. He can also be counted on to create kick-ass artistic renderings of our POC and QTPOC ancestors and heroes, like the one of Whitney Houston that hangs in my kitchen and makes me feel all the things every time I look at it.
Millan is 31 years old, lives in Oakland CA, and is passionate about art, food justice, community, fundraising for QTPOC causes, permaculture, and biking. His art deals with bi-culturalism, social justice, healing from political trauma, love, and liberation. Millan was born and raised in Santiago, Chile, and started out as a print-maker and later moved on to street art and mixed media. Lately he’s been doing graphic-heavy work with bright colors. Millan believes that art should be accessible and for the people.*
BGD: When did you first know you were an artist?
MILLAN: I remember art as my earliest memory, especially stuff like drawing cartoon characters for the neighborhood kids to avoid getting my ass kicked for being a weirdo.
BGD: How would you describe the work you do?
MILLAN: I’m mainly a portrait artist though I work across the board with many mediums. I came up drawing comic books believe it or not, spraying tags, and from there moved onto printmaking and aerosol art. I do portraits of badass queers/ mujeres/ warriors, Latin@s, qtpoc, big hearted shit starters. Tu sabes, people that will live on forever.
BGD: Can you describe your artistic process? How does your work get done?
MILLAN: I dont have a studio right now so I’ve been spraying pieces out in the street or at friends’ casas, or wherever I can find a spot. This is a bit of a frazzled process that involves a lot of improvisation. I find that the pieces in the end paint themselves in that sense. Before I go out to spray, a lot of prep goes into the windows so they are durable, I shellac and caulk them (I worked for years as a residential painter) and make sure they are safe to hang in someone’s house.
BGD: What other artists/artworks have most inspired you?
MILLAN: It’s so wonderful to live in close proximity to so many talented people. We got it good here in the Bay. I love that people are doing so much around organizing QTPOC events, figuring out what we need from each other to create safer spaces and do what we do as artists, writers, performers. I’m gonna leave it at that cos if I start naming names it’s gonna be a loong list.
BGD: Do you have a favorite piece of your own?
MILLAN: I have a portrait of Frida that I painted on a window that opens. It was supposed to be sold a bunch of times, but all the times it fell through, which is funny because I’ve secretly wanted to keep this piece and gift it to someone special, apparently she wants to stay with me!
BGD: How does your identity influence your work?
MILLAN: I grew up in Chile during the dictatorship and witnessing art as a powerful means of resistance is something that has always been with me. Many of Chile’s greatest artists/poets/writers were exiled, killed, or disappeared. When my family came to the US during that time, that sense of making waves through art stayed with me. So much of where I’ve been as a trans person, a queer, a Latino, a survivor, comes through as a celebration of our resilience.
BGD: What’s next?
MILLAN: A qtpoc artists’ collective to make studio space happen. We need more community space in Oakland, places to gather, create art, raise dinero thru monthly art shows, teach classes, put on performances. I’m still looking for interested folks, so if anybody is interested in joining the conversation please drop me a line. Thanks so much Mia!
(Visit Millan’s website to see more of his art. Most of his stuff is available for sliding scale or barter. You can contact him about prices and to inquire about custom work at firstname.lastname@example.org)