Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What drives you to creation?

What drives you to creation? Just what is that itch that must be scratched?

What drives you to pick up your brush, to dip your fingers into the paint and start marking that blank canvas? To scrape a knife across the surface of tacky oil paint. Is it the medium, the gooey texture - slippery or sticky, or thin and delicate. Is it the smell? The feel of the tools in your hands, the paint on your fingers, the hard swatches of it drying on your clothes. Are you moved by the full, thick brushes, perfectly maintained. The tubes lined up in order on your work bench - chromological of course. The jar of special favourites, clagged up, hard edged, paint spatted stubs of brushes - not so perfectly maintained. The twiggy sticks, rollers or scraps of lacy fabric that you use to mark the surface. The bubble wrap, the feathers, the bird bones, the twine and the seaweed.

Is it collaboration that wags your tail? The thrill of bouncing ideas off arty minds - seeing those ideas grow wings and fly away. Sharing their wild and crazy madness where they will. I'm pretty new to collaboration but I can see that it has the power to hold me. Possibly forever. It might just be a never ending adventure.

Maybe it's the unique happy place that you go to when you sing with other people. When you find those angelic harmonies that hover about your head, and you try to hold them there.

Maybe it is that intense and highly personal relationship with your hands and fingers that is part of the textile territory. Crotcheting close to the heart - small and close and personal.

Maybe you find out who you are when you beat metal, heat its points in a small cokey fire, then beat it, pull it, twist it, turn it, till it becomes your own. Forged by your own hand, driven by your vision. That's strong stuff.

Making something from nothing.

Making something of power and beauty from nothing.

I love painting. I love getting lost in the process. I love the difficulties inherent in exploring knotty issues through abstraction. Teasing them out and looking at what is there. I love the complex simplicity that is necessary in abstraction. I am inspired and stimulated by people's thoughts and ideas. By inventions and discoveries. By rituals and customs. I think I am trying to understand the world and my place in it better through looking at how all those ideas fit together, or how they don't fit together. By turning them over and over, looking at them from all angles, taking them apart, putting them back in different ways.

By trying to understand them from an artist's perspective.  I think that is what drives me to creation.

What is it for you?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Quarks, threads and a helpless longing ...

Regions of the Heavens I. Oil on canvas with cotton stitching. 1000mm x 1000mm. Deborah Milligan
Regions of the Heavens I looks at the Heavens as place of profound mystery and reverence with one of the many ancient symbols for air - and heaven - floating across the surface. The symbolic power of the four elements has long been part of our thinking and this enduring obsession is to do with their intrinsic connection to the cycle of life and death. Historically, exposure to the four elements represents the only ways in which the dead can be disposed of, and through this exposure nourish and support new life. Interestingly these symbols are largely circular.

Regions of the Heavens II: A Helpless Longing. Oil on canvas with cotton stitching.
1000mm x 1000mm.Deborah Milligan
Regions of the Heavens II: A Helpless Longing looks at one of the points where science and religion touch. It talks of a more active engagement, a greater desire to explain and understand. Its initial inspiration is a quote from George Bernard Shaw:

There are other concepts at play in this work too. One is the Thread of Life which weaves through many archetypal stories and is particularly symbolised by the Moraie. The Moraie are referenced in The Odyssey by Homer and also reflected in the actions of Penelope, Odysseus’s wife, who each day unmade her day’s weaving rather than cut the thread that symbolised her husband's life. In A Helpless Longing the thread itself is symbolic, not just the form that the thread takes.

The form however also references the 'Lattice of Life': that cosmic matter that possibly connects all aspects of the Universe. The threads in the lattice are carriers of matter, energy and thought, and have been described as ‘non-time, non-space grooves in which life will eventually run’. According to this theory the gaps between the strings are vital: between the strings there is nothing, nothing at all. Is this the ‘pause between the breaths’ of Hinduism? The ‘space between the atoms’? Some physicists theorise that, at a sub-atomic level, space has a foamlike substance, which has a certain synchronicity with the 'Lattice of life'. In his intriguing book 'Clap one hand for the Big Bang' , Ian Pullen from the Theosophical Society states:

Science is generally logical until it gets down to sub-atomic levels and the idiosyncrasies of Quantum Theory. Down amongst the muons and quarks of this universe, all sorts of peculiar and illogical things
happen. Particles can be in two places at once; they can also ‘communicate’ with each other and seem able to foretell the future.

Out of interest there is a pretty cool site with clear descriptions of Quantum Theory (and other related theories) here. Regions of t
he Heavens Debor
I like the friction between all these thoughts: the helpless longing, the thread of life, the 'Lattice of Life' and Quantum theory. These concepts don’t sit comfortably together, there are broken lines and unanswered questions, leaps of faith – to me this expresses the mystery of life.

Regions of the Heavens III: The Rift. Oil on canvas with cotton stitching. 1000mm x 1000mm.
Deborah Milligan
Regions of the Heavens III: The Rift focuses in on this tension – at the uneasy relationship between dissecting and accepting, between pushing and containing. Here the ‘rift’ refers not to the space between the atoms, but to our understanding of what that is. This work talks of our need to explain, and thereby contain, that which we don’t understand. To hold it back. It is a basic fear of the unknown. It also looks at when we push our understanding so far that something gives way. It explores that idea: when we push so hard we tear the fabric that holds in our understanding, and then we try, futilely, to re-contain what we have released.

This series is a cyclic progression: accepting, exploring, accepting the next step, exploring from there. For we are in uncharted territory and that is how we must travel.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

My mouth waters when I paint

Abstract art can be difficult to interpret and people often ask me: What comes first - the thought or the painting? Or do they evolve together? How do you know what you are painting?
This is difficult to answer and any response is more an exploration than a definitive answer. For me, often the thought, or the general theme, comes first. Usually this thought is elusive and difficult to pin down. so I will write copiously trying to capture it. Sometimes, when all the elements are out in the open, I will then try to clarify what I want to capture by writing it in haiku form. This strips away all the fluff and leaves me with a very clear direction to follow.  However, I don’t always use that tool. At other times I start with the elusive thoughts still wandering freeform.

White Hot Angry Tears. 250mm x 250mm. Deborah Milligan

The painting above was done a few years ago and was inspired by an aerial view of a desert detention centre that I saw in a newspaper. It struck me with it's stark sense of isolation - a ring road worn in the desert around a fenced prison.  My feelings about the way we treat asylum seekers here in Australia were running hot and I found it hard to focus on what I wanted to say in my painting. I used haiku to really strip away all the excess thoughts and refine my vision. I don't have any literary aspirations, but I do find this an incredibly useful tool. This is one of the few paintings where I have included the haiku in the final work. It summed up my feelings so well, and resonates with the image.

white hot angry tears
so wrong, this desert prison
our land cries with you

When I paint I am often guided by the sensations within my body. When I feel it in my heart, in my stomach, in my hands - even in my mouth - then I know that the painting is working for me. It is a deeply visceral, even primitive feeling. It is only later that I step back and analyse it, refine it, work ‘by the rules’. Initially though, I gather the awareness of what I wish to convey within my body, observe my physical, emotional and intellectual reaction, and then endeavour to give it expression through paint.

Regardless of the way in which I start, the painting itself often tells me more about my initial intentions as it evolves. Sometimes it is only when I have finished that I fully understand what my intentions were. I enjoy allowing the painting to guide me.

I remember once playing about with fridge poetry and making what I thought was an inconsequential five line poem. The next morning when I got up and saw it up there for all to see on the fridge I nearly died! “Crikey! I didn’t want to tell anyone about that!” Completely without my knowing, my subconscious had dredged up an old wound that needed airing and healing.

Art can be incredibly powerful – never underestimate it!