Conversations with our Muses 1.2 - Mila Rae Mancuso

Conversations with our Muses 1.2 - Mila Rae Mancuso

Arc and Bow: What's your name? 


Mila Mancuso: My name is Mila Mancuso. 


AB: Where are you from? 


MM: I'm from Los Angeles and Santa Fe, New Mexico. 


AB: When did you move from Los Angeles to Santa Fe? 


MM: When I was 14. 


AB: So you went to high school there? 


MM: I went to high school in New Mexico. It was a stark shift, but I think it was overall a good move. 


AB: I can imagine it's pretty different—being a teenager in Santa Fe versus being a teenager in LA. 


MM: Yeah. At first, I was the only one wearing a push up bra at my high school. Then, I took off the cup vibes and tried to blend in a little bit more. It was still very, very different. Everyone was “nun-esque,” and I was trying to look much older. 


AB: You were fast paced L.A. They were a bit more earthy. Do you feel like it grounded you? 


MM: I do in the end. I definitely had a lot of time alone, and that’s when my art practice really took hold. I wasn't hanging out with people as much, and there really wasn't much to do other than go to the movies and read. That definitely forced me to turn inward very quickly. 


AB: Were you drawn to writing, film, art, and photography before you moved to Santa Fe? 


MM: I always liked writing. Specifically when I was younger, I remember writing and drawing lot. My taste in art definitely wasn't anything like what it is now. I remember seeing Jeff Koons’ Swan at The Broad and being wowed. I wasn’t really into photography at all. My Dad has a crazy collection, so that introduced me to it, but I wasn’t something I resonated with until I started doing it myself. 


AB: What do you do now? 


MM: I write poetry. I just wrote my first feature screenplay, so if any agent—


AB: WME, CAA, Paradigm —I mean, I'd say APA, but we're shooting high —if you're reading this, this is Mila Rae Mancuso. She's super interesting. So keep reading. 


MM: I do a lot of drawings for fun. I've always been a doodler, but recently, some of my friends who are musicians had me make their album art. Strangely, it’s the thing that is bringing more commercial work for me. I'm not complaining. I really like drawing. 


(Dana and Alden ft. quickly, quickly, "Coconut Water")


(Upcoming Cassette Project) 


AB: You have a very particular style. For us, you did the illustration for the Arc and Bow Girl. 





Now we're using one of your illustrations on an actual clip. I think we'll continue to work together and create fun, pretty things. 


MM: Yes. 



AB: You have bigger pieces I see around here. Talk to me about those. 


MM: The paintings I almost don’t look at as a finished thing. I just am painting over things constantly. I have one of a girl coming out of a house. Her limbs are sort of bursting through it, and that was just a painted-over Goodwill painting. There are so many things to do with scale, and it's fun to sort of fuck around. 


AB: It's very stream of consciousness? 


MM: Yes. Very. I have zero technical skills with painting. It's freeing, because I really have zero clue what I'm doing. 


AB: I think people are attracted to that style. There's definitely something to be said for a very skilled painter who can make things look lifelike, or someone who adheres to a certain technical style, but you can tell that your personality is in your style. It's very true to your mind. I think that's what people would be attracted to about your pieces. It doesn't look like anyone else could have made them. It's a product of your imagination. I love the way that you make stars. 


MM: Thank you. 


AB: In terms of career path, do you see yourself first and foremost as a writer, then as an illustrator/painter? 


MM: In college, I started as a creative writing major. I was taking all these classes like “Old English Poetry,” and I had a teacher who was speaking like a 12th century monster with a deep, guttural voice. That class made me realize this was not the vibe I wanted as my time to truly explore. Then I found a way to make up a major where I could do photography and filmmaking alongside writing in a hyper curated curriculum. I made a lot of work that I'm proud of, but now that I’m graduated, I’m having that “what the fuck?” kind of of moment.


AB: Where you can go a lot of different ways, and you're trying to figure out where to start? 


MM: Yes. 


AB: Where did you go to college? 


MM: I went to Emerson College. 


AB: What was your major that you made up? 


MM: It was something like “Translating Poetic Language into the Visual Sphere…” 


AB: That's a good one. 


MM: Yeah, fully made up.


AB: Things used to be so concentrated. People would think of writers as writers, painters as painters, and photographers as photographers. I think people are opening up to the idea that artists can be multifaceted, and be really good at different forms of expression. There tends to be that one thing that's more of the front runner though. For you, it seems like that's screenwriting?


MM: The Surrealists from the 20’s did a lot of group work. They all had their own medium. They were using automatic writing techniques that also translated into automatic drawing. All playing into the subconscious. The subconscious is pulling language, image, and sound all at the same time. I guess filmmaking is the combination of a lot of different art forms, but there are so many rules, which makes me less attracted to it.


AB: What was the progression of your artistic discovery? What did you do first? 


MM: Writing has always been my main base, but I also started early with the doodling. I remember having a quiz I did in pink pen —which was crazy—but my teacher said “Please don't doodle on your quizzes anymore.” That was kind of a sad thing.


AB: Yeah leave it to the traditional school system to stifle the creativity of young individuals. 


MM: Exactly. I always loved Tim Burton. He was sort of my my first love, but I never considered that something I could really pull from. 


AB: What's your go to form of writing when you want to express something? Is it poetry? Is it prose? Do you see things cinematically? 


MM: In the moment where I'm like “I have to write this down,” it's normally just in my journal in the form of messy prose. That's how poems come out too. I'll write one line, and that one line will inspire a poem. Poetry is much more restrained. It doesn't feel natural to me. Which is kind of weird to say having been in school for it. I think I learned way too much about poetry. It forced technical thoughts and over emphasized form in general.


AB: You mentioned that your painting is very stream of consciousness. Is that true for writing too? When you're doing something that's longer format, do you have a beginning, middle, and end in mind? 


MM: Never. Beginning, I’m like “Okay I get the premise.” By the middle, I don't know where it's going at all. Once I'm at the end, it's “How did I get here?” I like writing that does that. Anaïs Nin has no idea what she's writing about at all, and Antonin Artaud too. I like writing that is somewhat maniacal.


AB: I definitely agree with you. It's a controversial topic, depending on who you ask, especially if you're in a school environment. I was certainly drilled to—ugh the horrible word—outline. I think there’s a case to be made that if you have something that is expandable, maybe you can let it guide and reveal itself to you. 


MM: Right. 


AB: I think that it feels more natural, because you can't predict life. 


MM: It's a living, breathing thing. It's like a child. You have to nurse it and talk to it. I did an outline for the second draft of my screenplay. That was okay because I already knew what was happening. It didn't feel as devastating.


AB: I think bringing in the structure in the second draft is probably a good place to start. Too early can hinder some of the fun and creativity.


MM: Exactly. 


AB: Do you get inspired by your dreams? 


MM: Yeah. Constantly. I did a short film last year called, A Bride is a Lonely Polka Dot. That entire film was based on a dream that I had of my Dad and I sitting across a large table. He had a dot on his head. I couldn't see his entire face, but I could see his eyes and mouth. I still don't really know what it means, but I definitely use imagery from my dreams.


AB: Take me through the journey of the most recent thing you've written. Did you have a story in mind that you wanted to tell?


MM: This process was unlike anything I’ve ever done. I came up with the simple premise — A couple moves to a new town, there’s a cult, and they’re getting inducted in ways they can't see. The wife is experiencing these manic episodes, but she get’s inspiration from them. She's a writer, but the writing that she is doing is actually not her own. 

I think that is one of my biggest fears as a creative in general —to have that feeling of inspiration that's so fulfilling, and then somebody says “I've seen this before.” I think it's a relatable fear. It's a horror movie—not so much a classic horror movie, but one that play’s on emotional fear.


AB: Paranoia is a great theme. 

What's the feeling, if you could describe it, that you want to give people through your art? What's the connection you want people to have to you? 


MM: The overall theme of my work is things that are kind of scary looking or off putting, but somehow beautiful. I like that somewhat creepy, dreamlike, eerie space. I want people to see things that I make, and then think about it for a little while after. That's the goal. 


AB: Who are your creative inspirations? 


MM: David Lynch is like a God to me. I'm also in love with Man Ray. I like Sofia Coppola. Marina Abramovic is actually my favorite woman. She's so funny, and so radical in every sense. Her work really pushes people to challenge themselves in a dark and honest way.


AB: Do you feel like your writing skews darker? 


MM: Definitely. It just sort of happens that way. Maybe I’m a dark person. Even when I try to write something that's happy, it always ends up kind of sad.


AB: It tends to be easier to feel creative in a darker space. You feel more compelled to express when you're coming from a place of discomfort. It's funny because your paintings and drawings feel very light, feminine, and whimsical. 



MM: Yeah definitely. My photography is a bit more dark, just because that’s what’s interesting to me. There’s a level of — I don't want to say childlike, but nostalgia and simplicity to my drawing. It's probably because I'm not a technically trained illustrator, but I tend to dislike things that are too lifelike. It makes me so uncomfortable actually.


(Study of long exposured self-portraiture (2023)

(collected portraiture 2023)

AB: Where do you want to see these creative endeavors take you? In your dream scenario, what is on Mila Rae Mancuso’s Wikipedia? 


MM: I would love to have my own literary slash art journal. Aperture, I think is fantastic. They do a lot of essays, and of course, photographs in print. 

I would like to do everything I like to do all at once, and make money from it. 


AB: Yes. 


MM: I think that that would be really awesome.


AB: Do you find yourself going down the avenue of screenwriting because it's the most commercial, or does that feel like a satisfying way for you to tell a story and express yourself? 


MM: A little bit of both. In a way, it does feel like the most natural way of writing for me. Especially, in the description lines or the action lines. The screenplay is a natural, progression of the way I imagine and describe things in the form of prose. It can also be a good way to actually make money doing writing. I do love film, but it is honestly such a strange transaction, and there's so many rules.


AB: What medium has had the biggest impact on you? Is it a film, a novel, a painting or a photograph? 


MM: I'd say novel. I read Lolita when I was 13, and that spiraled me into writing because it convinced me that there was a way to articulate things so vividly in a completely non-visual form. Later, I discovered Sylvia Plath, who I would consider the mother of my poetry. I like that writing forces you to imagine things, so the experience is completely unique to you. I do love film though.


AB: What’s your favorite film? 


MM: Okay, I'm gonna list a couple because I can’t choose. Daisies from 1966. Vera Chytilova. Czech film. I think that movie is so fantastic. It has no plot, and it's visually perfect. It's just about hedonism. I also love Eraserhead. It's the rawest expression of being scared of having a child, and them looking like that. David Lynch had a kid, I think, the year before. So, it seems like an honest portrayal of his own anxiety, which I really appreciate. Celine and Julie Go Boating by Jacques Rivette. French New Wave. It’s like 3.5 hours. Again, no plot, but visually impactful.


AB: What's your favorite book? 


MM: That’s so hard. 


AB: Or even one that you've read more recently that in the forefront of your mind. 


MM: Antonin Artaud’s Theater of Cruelty. I think he wrote it in the 40’s. It’s about how plays are not doing enough, and how they should be so immersive that the audience members are actually fearing for their lives. For instance, using loud sounds, actual screams, actual tears, actual pain. I feel like it predicted horror now. I love reading old texts that are still relevant. His essays are so fantastic, but he was fully deranged the entire time. I think he's a genius. 


AB: How would you describe your personal style? 


MM: Eclectic. Which means nothing. 


AB: No, actually, that's very accurate. 


MM: I like to have fun. I'd say 90% of my wardrobe is vintage stuff that I've thrifted in towns in the middle of nowhere. That's normally where you find the best stuff. I love costumes. I like to dress like a character every day. That's when I feel like most myself. Kind of ironic, but it's true. 


AB: Somebody's got to do it. Somebody's got to be the girl that people are staring at on the subway thinking, “What the fuck is she wearing?” 


MM: Yeah! 


AB: Is there a particular era of fashion that you're attracted to? 


MM: There are couple. Obviously the 60’s. There's a lot of playfulness in the colors, the patterns, and the cuts. I really enjoy 30’s lingerie and silk pieces in general. The fur coats. I can't stop buying. 

In terms of inspiration, I love Victorian things. They're just so ridiculous. The amount of layers women would have to wear is ungodly. They made some beautiful things. I have some pieces, but I won't wear them because I don't want them to rip. 


AB: I'm pretty late to the game, but I recently watched Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette. This is my review on it. It's the feminine version of an action movie. It's not about the plot. It's about beautifully, softly lit scenes, an amazing set, and unbelievably good costume design. As I was watching, I thought “This is what guys feel when they see a car blow up.” It gave me such an appreciation of the style of that era, and the craftsmanship that went into making those garments.


MM: They all just dress like like Jell-O creations or cupcakes. I think it's definitely my aspirational style. It’s just not practical.


AB: If you could steal any character's wardrobe from film or TV, who would it be? 


MM: Bella Baxter in Poor Things. Those outfits went so crazy. I would fully steal her wardrobe. 


AB: Who's your favorite designer right now? 


MM: I really love Paloma Wool. I love Anna Sui. Miu Miu, obviously. Margiela. 

That's my final answer. That most recent couture show was perfect. All those corsets definitely caused the models to have permanent lung damage. That’s sort of the feeling that I want to have. It reminded me of old 30’s circus costumes or showgirl outfits. I think they did have birdcage sort of elements in the skirts. I wish people dressed like that more.


AB: What's your ideal day? 


MM: I'm in Paris. I'm waking up in the Madonna Inn in Paris, which doesn't exist. I’m in the honeymoon suite, where the bed is heart-shaped. I take a bath in a heart shaped bath, and I have the most wonderful cappuccino. I'm listening to “Loaded” by The Velvet Underground. Then I go out and get a wonderful croissant. I'm reading for a long time. Then, my boyfriend, who is David Lynch, picks up in that Corvette. 


AB: Modern day, right now David Lynch?


MM: Yeah. I’ll take him at any age. We go see Eraserhead being awarded some award. We go eat soup, and after we sleep in separate beds. 


AB: Oh my God. 


MM: That is my perfect day. 


AB: What’s a sacred ritual that you have?


MM: Making my coffee in the morning has become a big deal. I just got a new coffee machine, and have been trying to nail some sort of latte art. 

Also, my friend Jacob and I have been doing weekly writing exercises. It's become something that I cherish.


AB: That is something I miss about being in school for writing. My favorite is doing ten minutes of just write, don't take your pen off of the page. It's scary and fun. Once you get going, it feels amazing.

Do you guys do prompts? Take me through the session. 


MM: It's actually that. We don't stop writing for ten minutes. I also have a list that a professor made. It’s 15 pages of concrete nouns, organized by category. The categories are like birds, rocks, weapons in sci fi movies, and it gets so ridiculously specific. 

We go through this list, and pick out five words that we like. We both use the same five words, and we have ten minutes to write something. We read it to each other afterwards.


AB: Has anything you've written in those sessions felt like it could be something?


MM: I wrote something about an opera in a fishbowl. All the fishes were elite people with their little spectacles. It was the most random thing. It helps find a jumping point, which can be really hard to get to in your everyday life. This forces it out. 


AB: Silk or fur? 


MM: That’s hard. Let's say silk. 


AB: Color or all black color?


MM: Color.


AB: Red lip or a neutral red lip?


MM: Red lip.


AB: L.A. or New York? 


MM: New York. 


AB: What's your favorite piece from Arc and Bow? 


MM: I really love the Madeline, but I also love the Mila Bow. 


AB: Yes, for all of you wondering, this is the Mila of the Mila Bow. 


MM: Yes. I was named after the bow. 

Back to blog

Leave a comment