Elaine Mills’ show at the Pi Gallery rubs sand in the wound.

Desert Storm 

Elaine Mills’ show at the Pi Gallery rubs sand in the wound.

When Elaine Mills gets pissed off, she paints. Watching the election debacle of 2000 got her blood boiling, and making art was one way to release her frustrations.

"I would go down in my studio every night when I got home from work, and I would do a new drawing," Mills says. "It was amazing to me how the mainstream media did not stand up and say, 'We want to investigate this. We want to look at this.' They sort of laid down and took it and have been taking it for the last four years, and only now are we starting to see them actually question the administration."

War: Reflection on the Bush Years, now fills the second floor of the Pi Gallery (419 East 18th Street, through July 31). It begins with a collection of 11 ink-brush drawings on sketchbook paper created in response to that infamous election, followed by watercolors inspired by snapshots of the World Trade Center that Mills took while traveling in New York City the weekend before 9/11. The show culminates with a series of eight acrylic paintings based on her reactions to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, accompanied by an entry from the journal she kept before painting.

But Mills never intended for this cathartic artwork to end up in a gallery. "It feels pretty exposed," she admits.

In fact, the show's most intimate moments aren't in Mills' paintings. Visually, her square canvases covered with abstract smears and drips lack originality: Splattered red paint stands for bloodshed; a large, flatly painted black rectangle represents oil. In her journal entries, though, the artist responds to what she sees and hears of the war coverage. For example, an entry dated March 30, 2003, shows how Mills' childhood, spent in the deserts surrounding Las Vegas, affects her viewpoint:

"This week the talk was about sand, gritty desert sand, sand that penetrates every crack, crevice and corner of all things in its path," she writes. "As a child of the desert I have experienced the power and might of blowing sand with its zero visibility and its capacity to make forward motion STOP. I watched soldiers covered in sand, eat sand, breathe sand, and blinded by sand. Allah is pushing back against an advancing army."

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