Spike Mills began seeing the faces at age 8.
Growing up in Wawa, Ontario, Spike spent much of his boyhood outdoors, exploring the woods, climbing the hills and scavenging the beaches of nearby Lake Superior.
Spike saw faces everywhere: Shimmering on the lake, lurking in the woods, etched onto the rocks. The images "freaked me out," says Spike, because he knew they existed only in his mind. His parents dismissed their son's visions as fanciful daydreams. "What an imagination you have!," they said. "There, there."
The faces were very real to Spike, though, and seemed to emanate from a parallel world that both frightened him and beckoned to him. He wondered if he could unite with the faces; that boyhood curiosity has morphed into an obsessive life's calling. "I knew then that I could manifest what I was seeing and bring these faces to life," he says. "I'm still at it."
The career options in Wawa (population ~3,000) are few. The men become miners, fisherman, loggers or railway workers. (Spike was known by his given name Shane until his Grandfather, a cook for the local railroad line, exclaimed while gazing at his grandson, "Why, you look just like a railroad spike!," and Shane became Spike.)
From the time he was a boy, Spike knew he would be an artist. Following stints as a gold miner and lumber quality control inspector, he plunged into his passion full-time.
After dabbling in clay, Spike settled on wood as his medium of choice. He works with eastern white cedar, spalted maple, birch, black walnut, pin cherry and other native species. His tools of the trade are a chainsaw, angle grinder and die grinder. Fanatical about preserving the environment, Spike works only with sustainable wood varieties and other natural materials that he salvages, such as moose antlers which he transforms into dramatic carvings.
Spike started as a mask maker. To pay homage to the local indigenous Ojibwe people, he called his masks "Faces of Gitchee Goomee," the Objibwe name for Lake Superior that means "All Powerful Water."
"The lake has had an incredibly profound impact on my development as an artist," Spike says. "It flows in my veins."
Mask making allowed Spike to embody the faces that flitted around him, but he was restless to expand his artistic horizons. Creative forces stirred within him that required a different kind of expression. He discovered it during a trip to Florida, when he beheld his first Tiki. Back in his studio, Spike went to work developing a new art form: Outsize Tiki-style figurative sculptures which he called "Goomees." He fashions the Goomees into a variety of decorative and functional creations, including totems, wall hangings, table decor, planters and ice buckets.
The rich mixture of artistic styles that inform Spike's work -- folk, south Pacific, aboriginal, African, native American, South American and others -- suggest extensive world traveling. In fact, Spike has lived almost all of his life in his birthplace of Wawa, and his influences come from his local surroundings and from within.
Spike mixes his own colors using an exterior acrylic latex base. He constantly experiments with new formulas and ingredients, including blueberries, gooseberries, red wine and home-made vinegar. "I'm always chasing the perfect blue," he notes.
Darkness & Light
Spike's art conveys a helter-skelter jumble of emotions: Fierce, regal, joyful, menacing, mischievous, angry, restful, warlike, whimsical, frightened and frightening, carefree and haunted.
Spike's state of mind directly shapes the moods of his creations; it can be said that he wears his feelings on his art. When at peace, he creates beautiful women and Goomees with wide Cheshire cat grins. During dark times, Spike's work takes on a more sinister vibe, reaching its most extreme form with skull figures that he creates to help salve the pain he carries from two long ago traumas: sexual abuse he suffered as a youngster, and the death of a childhood friend by drowning.
Spike's Wawa gallery is a must-see destination for tourists, and his beloved Goomees adorn streets, sidewalks and parks throughout the town.