Pay close attention the next time you watch TV, you might see the work of Virgin Islands artist Mark Feijão Milligan II prominently displayed in the background. It’s impossible to miss her expansive mural in a recent episode of “NCIS: Hawaii,” and one of her paintings is prominently displayed in the home location of “Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls,” which have both started streaming just over a week ago.
Milligan, 45, is from St. Croix and has been drawing since elementary school, when his father taught him how to draw the cartoon character Woody Woodpecker. In high school, he had the opportunity to study art with artist Cindy Male at Good Hope School.
“It was really during this time that my art world really opened up – through what she was able to show me through art history and really place art in the world” , did he declare.
On his own, Milligan began emulating some of the masters, such as Leonardo DaVinci and Picasso during his more realistic stage, copying some of their sketches to learn techniques and style. By doing this, Milligan eventually developed her own voice.
“During this time, I gravitated towards more expressionist work, more emotional work,” Milligan said. “When you’re in high school at 14 or 15, there’s a lot going on in your world. I found that it’s not just about painting pretty pictures, art is a vehicle that you can use to resolve some questions and conflicts that you have internally through the artistic process. It has become much more than a voice; it also became a therapy for me. It was the perfect vehicle for me to work on a lot of that.
At 16, Milligan was one of a handful of students chosen for mentorship with artist Paul Youngblood. The piece Milligan created under his tutelage was submitted to the Congressional National Arts Competition to represent the Virgin Islands in Washington, D.C., and was displayed at the White House.
Milligan chose the School of Visual Arts in New York to study for her Bachelor of Fine Arts with an emphasis on oil painting.
After college, Milligan spent some time “living the classic starving artist life,” until he landed a web design job with CBS News in 1999.
“During the web boom, the field of web design was new and not really taught, so these organizations started going to art schools and they were picking people from the different programs and pulling them out. J ended up being one of those people when I got out of school.
Milligan was self-taught on the job and continues to design websites to this day. During this time, between projects, Milligan traveled the world, learning about different cultures and different arts. Only in the past 10 years has he returned to his artistic roots.
In 2020, For Freedoms, an artist-led organization founded in 2016, opened its campaign for the first time to artists in US territories. The programs allowed artists to take over billboards in the United States, and Milligan was again chosen to represent the U.S. Virgin Islands.
His billboard, a classic depiction of black children playing in water, was displayed as a billboard in Plaza East in St. Croix.
“It was the summer of 2020, where we had the deaths of George Floyd and Brianna Taylor,” he said. “At that time there was so much inner turmoil and I was having a conversation with my nephews about what we can do to effect change. What I normally do is create art, so I created this piece, “Innocencia Negra” or “Black Innocence”.
The piece was on Milligan’s Etsy store as a full-sized painting when the “Lizzo Show” art director saw it and requested that it be printed large enough to use on the set of his new show, “Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls” on Prime Video, which made its streaming debut last weekend. Look for the painting next to the stairs.
Milligan, who currently lives in Hawaii with his family, was also recently invited to join the artists of Pow! wow! The group of Hawaiian and Asian artists transforms neighborhoods with murals in a week. In downtown Honolulu, Milligan’s mural spans an area larger than a tennis court.
“It was my first time working to bring footage from Hawaii,” he said. “I never really wanted to co-opt the culture, so I didn’t just want to come in and start painting Hawaiian pictures, not being Hawaiian and not knowing the iconography and history, but after 12 years of living here , I decided to let this be the first opportunity. I spoke with local councilors with the knowledge base and decided to bring the vision and celebrate the native Hawaiians.
The mural was featured on “NCIS: Hawaii.” The episode was released nearly two weeks ago on CBS.
Because the extensive mural needed to be completed in seven days, Milligan thought back on her experience with Paul Youngblood and contacted the Kamehameha School, an organization dedicated to “educating native Hawaiians in perpetuity.” Through the school, he asked two students to help him work on the mural for two days, sharing his experience just as Paul Youngblood and Cindy Male did for him.
Although he now lives on the other side of the country, Milligan still stays true to his crucian roots and is in talks to collaborate on some projects in Sainte-Croix.
“I am very proud to come from the Virgin Islands. I am very proud to be a Crucian. It’s something I carry with me all the time. I wear my culture with pride,” he said.
To the young wannabes in the Virgin Islands, Milligan advises, “Dream big and match your dream to the amount of work you put into it and have fun.