Judy Millar

In Conversation with Kate Brettkelly-Chalmers.

Interview: Considering Art

Judy Millar 2018

For her first solo show in London, The View from Nowhere, Judy Millar presents six paintings full of energetic and colourful works that include a signature process in which she removes layers of paint from the surface after applying it. I talked to her on the first evening of her show.

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Reverse Cinema

Falling in love – an intellectual experiment.

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Cinema and Painting

The intersection of these two screen-based arts against the backdrop of modern culture.

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Robert Leonard Interview

Robert Leonard talks to Judy Millar. The interview discusses her work in Personal Structures, Venice, 2010.

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Interview: Considering Art

Born in 1957, Judy Millar has become one of New Zealand’s best known painters, representing her country at the 53rd Venice Biennale in 2009. Her work has been exhibited not only throughout her own country but also in Europe and the United States to much critical acclaim. Her gestural work has seen many forms including large paintings that tumble from the gallery ceilings in large coils. For her first solo show in London, The View from Nowhere, she presents six paintings full of energetic and colourful works that include a signature process in which she removes layers of paint from the surface after applying it. Bob Chaundry talked to Judy Millar on the first evening of her show.

How did you prepare for this show, your first solo show in London?

I work all the time and I try to choose good work that looks the right scale for the room. So I built myself a little model of the gallery and I worked with differently sized paintings that I thought would have an interesting relationship with the scale of the room.

You are quite known for your leviathan size works.

I work in a huge range of sizes, from very small to very, very large. Every work in a way has to have an interesting relationship to the body, so whether it’s a tiny scale or a big one. I think painting is like a portal and can suck a whole room into it if it’s working well. So that’s the kind of relationship I’m always looking for. I want a tension between the pictorial surface and the space it occupies.

I’ve read that you compare the act of painting to space travel.

Yes, that’s my experience when I’m working. I really feel that space and time dissolve into one another and I almost become non-existent. I suppose in contemporary terms it’s like disappearing down a black hole which is a very amazing feeling.

Is that what some would call getting into the zone?

I think athletes refer to it that way. It’s a different sort of consciousness, you step into an entirely new way of being.

My first reaction on seeing your paintings was that they’re very organic.

I think they’re both organic and highly synthetic. I’m always trying to bring the most contrary elements together in a work as possible. So, on one hand they’re very organic, on the other they’re highly artificial and synthetic. On the one hand they’re very free in their making, on the other hand they’re very constructed. I think painting at its best can bring these very paradoxical activities into one image.

Why do you feel the need to have these opposing forces together?

Because I feel that that’s what painting can do, and it’s something that very few of the other media can do and that comes from the fact that painting is both an illusion and a physical being at the same time. That’s very unique. A film is not. You can’t reach out and touch a film, it vanishes. A book is only able to be understood through a process of time. With a painting you get it all at once and you can relate to it as a physical thing while at the same time it’s highly illusionistic and a mental construct. I really think being human one of the dilemmas of our lives in that we live in these two realms, the mental realm and the physical realm and that causes us endless problems. So we have our imagination and our dreams and our fantasies and we have to deal with the reality of tables and chairs and cars and roads and all those other things. Humankind has always had to do that and I think religion attempts to bring those things together and I think art is another attempt to bring those things together to try to understand our dual existence. For me, painting can really hammer that dual existence, it can really deal with it.

So, where does your inspiration come from?

Through a long, long involvement with both looking at painting, thinking about painting and making painting and from my experiences in the visual world. And then it’s my very intimate relationship with the material I’m working with. So it’s all those things coming together.

Do any particular artists influence you?

Every day someone new. Every show I see, someone new. It’s extraordinary to see, as I did in the National Gallery this morning, paintings you know quite well and then you see new aspects to them.

I see colours that I think could be useful, the way artists have loosened the world up. When I look at a painting I ask myself what are they seeing. How are they trying to re-see that when they work? What have they seen, what are they seeing, and how are they presenting that are questions I’m always intrigued by.

How do you go about constructing your paintings?

It’s very traditional in many ways. I start with lighter colours and work towards darker colours. Then I’m pulling paint off the surface so it’s really a matter of putting paint on and taking it off until I arrive at something that I recognise in a way. So it’s a to-and-fro process of application and removal.

Why do you remove paint?

I started off painting in the 1980s and it was a time when deconstruction was the mode. I wanted to discover for myself what was the minimum a painting could be. So I started to remove stuff and I’ve always stayed with that. It’s a bit like a fashion designer’s work undoing clothes and finding how they could deconstruct a garment and I was trying to do the same with painting.

But do you know which bit you’re going to deconstruct before you do it?

At that time I was trying to understand how far I could deconstruct painting and I ended up with works that were just marking tape and gesso. Obviously I’ve become much more involved with image since then but there is still that aspect of putting things on and stripping it away in order to get at something that is just enough and vital. I saw a fantastic Francis Bacon show in Basel earlier this year and he said I want to get as close to the nervous system as possible and that really resonated with me because sometimes you want to get so close that you put your whole body in there. That’s when your hand will just go into the paint. You want it be as close as possible to your body. I work on the ground, it’s all very fluid. It’s quite physical, I need to use a lot of force. I walk into the works if they’re very big and paint my way out of them. I’m always finding new kinds of things to use to move the paint. I use rags and brushes and I use spray and tools that I invent and tools that I find and my fingers and feet and everything else. It’s a dirty business (laughs).

So beneath these layers of paint is a nervous system

When my hand is in the paint obviously the connection of the paint and my nervous system becomes one thing. The image becomes just the extension of the nervous system in a way.

 

http://www.consideringart.com

 

In Conversation with Kate Brettkelly-Chalmers.

A conversation with Judy Millar

Written by Kate Brettkelly-Chalmers for Ocula 
Auckland – 13 June 2016
Ocula Judy Millar 2016

Image: Judy Millar, Advancing All Electric, 2016. Installation view, Galerie Mark Müller, Zurich. Photo: Millar Studio. Courtesy the artist.

I have heard Schwitters’ formative installation Merzbau [the alteration of rooms in his family house into sculptural environments with elaborate angled surfaces] described as a ‘walk-in collage’ of different spatial and architectural features. Does this relate in someway to your own work?

Merzbau explored new spatial ideas in art, and my work also relates to new kinds of space, specifically combining elements of architecture, sculpture and painting. I am also interested in the idea of collage that Schwitters was using. Of course, he was collaging everyday material, and I am reassembling digital reproductions of my own painted images. The worthwhile thing about showing in Europe is that you get these very new takes on the work that you are doing—connections that wouldn’t be immediately made here, in New Zealand.

Ocula Judy Millar 2016

Image: Judy Millar, Untitled, 2016. Acrylic and oil on paper, 89 x 64 cm (incl frame). Courtesy of Bartley + Company Art.

Do you have a name for these sculptural installation works? They still involve painterly elements—more precisely, digital reproductions of your paintings—and I am reluctant to simply refer to them as ‘sculptures’.

They are called ‘space works’. In the studio we call them ‘props’ rather than sculptures. I would always bristle when the people I work with in the studio called them ‘sculptures’. So we came to the decision that we would call them props—I quite like the word.

The space works do seem to be ‘collaged’ in the way that different spatial planes are brought together. To me, they look like massive two-dimensional jigsaw pieces that have been assembled in interesting configurations.

Yes, they are a spatial collage in this respect, so this does fit quite well with the Merzbau concerns. On the surface of the structure, I am placing images of other forms that I’ve made in three-dimensions then photographed and had printed onto sticker paper. So the main space work has images of other spatial works hanging on its surface. These images really are like big stickers on the surface of the work. Each of these stickers is stuck to a piece of thin aluminium that is then gently curved in different directions. The difference with this new work is that the stickers, instead of being flat on the surface like previous works, curl away, gently lifting away from the form itself.

So it is quite a complex piece that involves both illusionistic curves and physical curves—real shadows and images containing shadows. If anything, these works are lampooning big heavy ‘male’ sculpture. It is a very gentle dig. These are stickers! It is everything that you shouldn’t do with a traditional sculpture: it’s illusionistic, it’s not real, it’s plywood made to look like cardboard, and it carries images on its surface.

Ocula Judy Millar 2016

Image: Judy Millar, Advancing All Electric, 2016. Installation view, Galerie Mark Müller, Zurich. Photo: Millar Studio. Courtesy the artist.

Do you often find yourself pushing back against certain traditions or stereotypes in art, such as the prototypical painting or sculpture?

I try and undo them because I want to understand them. My way of understanding something is to pull it apart. A good sculpture is about a form in the round that both alters and is altered by the space that surrounds it. But I am more interested in it existing as an image rather than a form. This recent spatial work is primarily made up of slotted planes—it is planar in the sense that it is really just an image surface that has become a little more complicated.

Ocula Judy Millar 2016

Image: Judy Millar, Untitled, 2016. Acrylic and oil on paper, 115.5 x 86 cm (incl frame). Courtesy of Bartley + Company Art.

Can you talk more about this relationship between space and painting in your work? You are testing the traditional idea of sculpture by introducing the imagistic flatness of painting. But it must be noted that, while we have been speaking about your space works, you also continue to make paintings that explore the basic fluidity of paint as a medium that can be made to sit on a flat surface in different ways.

Yes, an absolutely central interest of mine is how a painting alters its spatial environment. On one level, the painted works are a ‘finding out’ process that includes some really basic stuff about how colours interact and how the very fluid and incredible medium of paint functions. But I am painting these works flat on the floor and when I am doing this, I am trying to build an entire space. It is not that I am just thinking of a two-dimensional planar surface on the ground. It is as though I am trying to build a dome-like space above the canvas. I am in space; my movements are in space. So the painting is really about creating a form of space. It almost lands on that plane with the hope that, when I put the canvas upright, it is going to then come into the viewer’s space—that it is going to determine this space or influence it in someway.

While Schwitters might be a useful reference for your space works, I am venturing that some viewers might also think of Abstract Expressionism and Action Painting with respect to the gestural element involved in your paintings. Do you have any thoughts about this?

The word that always sets my teeth on edge is ‘gesture.’ Gesture seems like something that comes gushing out from deep inside you. That is not really what I am interested in. My work is much more about drawing; it is about looking and seeing, less about ‘expressing’. I’m using gesture only in the sense that a gesture can communicate something.

But Abstract Expressionism did produce some pretty amazing work and it also fell into a very big hole. I think there is something in there that is still worth exploring—that is still worth bringing forward. But like everything that is continually repeated, Action Painting became nothing but a mannerism. And I am very aware that I am referencing this form of painting in a ‘gone’ way. I am not really parodying it; rather I am referencing a ‘gone form’. It is a form that already stands for something. This continues to interest me greatly with painting. — Read original article here.

Reverse Cinema

Reverse Cinema

Sullivan + Strumpf, Sydney, Australia.

29 May – 26 June 2015

 

Excerpt from i-D Interview.

In the past decade, acclaimed New Zealand artist Judy Millar‘s varied work has filled a German gallery with Technicolor tidal waves and unspooled wild brushstrokes across the walls of a Renaissance church for the 53rd Venice Biennale. Always a fan of an enveloping spectacle, her latest show Reverse Cinema at Sydney’s Sullivan + Strumpf draws on painting, sculpture, and light projections to create an installation that’s both soulful and cerebral. With the show involving her most audacious work yet, i-D chatted with the artist about her allergy to categories, falling in love as an intellectual experiment, and why she dreads public art.

Read the full article by Neha Kale for i-D. Or download here.

i-D Interview PDF download

Cinema and Painting

Space Work 7 – Cinema and Painting

Adam Art Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand.

11 February – 11 May 2014

 

Space Work 7’s Cinema & Painting examines the intersection of these two screen-based arts against the backdrop of a culture characterized by the increasing plasticity of pictorial surfaces and flexibility of spaces of viewing.

Turning to artists, both contemporary and historical, who engage the relation between the screen and the space that projects from it, the exhibition mapped the genealogy and continuing life of a Modernist tradition of depth.

Space Work 7 – wood, paint and digital print

Over three thematic suites, this exhibition’s volumetric cinemas and paintings that spill off the wall offer exemplars of a strain of aesthetic practice in which the interrogation of a haptic surface accompanies a commitment to the formal complexity of images.

By addressing the materiality of projective space—that physical zone beyond the picture plane activated by the body of the spectator in conjunction with the beam of the projector or the intricacies of painted forms—Cinema & Painting examines the interconnection of these arts not only in pictorial but in explicitly phenomenological terms.

With Jim Davis, Oskar Fischinger, William Fox, Hollis Frampton, Ken Jacobs, Lumière Company, Len Lye, Colin McCahon, Anthony McCall, Judy Millar, Matt Saunders, Phil Solomon, Diana Thater.

Public Program is available for download here.

Exhibition catalogue can be purchased here.

Content with thanks to Adam Art Gallery, Wellington.

Robert Leonard Interview

Robert Leonard talks to Judy Millar

The interview discusses her work in Personal Structures, Venice 2011

Judy Millar 2011

Judy Millar: For this exhibition, I’ve been given a small room with two beautiful windows, which open out onto a canal. I’m making a twosided painting that forms a big springy strip. The room is about 6m long but the painting is 20m long. Since the painting is too big for the space, there’ll be a tussle. The painting will be forced to lift itself up into the air, go out of the window, and come back in. It’ll double back on itself and loop around. It’ll be delicate but cumbersome, a physical gesture in real space but also a bearer of illusionistic painterly space.

Robert Leonard: You’ve been blowing up “the brushstroke” for a while now.

JM: It started with Giraffe-Bottle-Gun, my 2009 Venice Biennale show. I made small paintings, then enlarged the imagery to ten times the size. I used a billboard printer—an advertising tool—to do it. I wanted the work to advertise itself. I wanted to amplify everything.

RL: But the new work is painted, right?

JM: The orange bits are painted but the black bits are printed. Both have been up-scaled, but to different degrees and in different ways. I’ve been developing big brushes with multiple heads so that I can make giant gestures. I’m trying to find a bigger dimension for myself.

RL: With the up-scaling and the use of printing, are you trying to denature or dehumanise the brushstroke?

JM: I’m not trying to dehumanise it, if anything I’m trying to rehuman ise it. I’m trying to give it more authority. Despite the absurd scale, you still read the work through your body.

RL: In this work, your painterly marks piggyback on a support that is itself akin to a painterly mark–a flourish.

JM: Exactly, it’s gesture in real space that carries other gestures on its surface. The illusionistic surface distorts your sense of the real physical form, and vice versa. By manipulating the support structure itself, I’m dismantling the usual image/support hierarchy.

RL: I’m reminded of the plastic toy-car track that I had as a child. I would bend it into curves and loops and send my cars careering down it. Your support will operate as a track for vision.

JM: The eye is forced to follow the track. I can control the eye; slow it down on the curves and speed it up on the flat. Space will turn into time, and time into space. What was behind will suddenly be in front, edges will become lines and lines will become edges— everything will be turned inside-out.

RL: Because they are so antithetical, I was reminded of Lynda Benglis’s paint pours from the late 1960s. She let paint fall from the can onto the floor, whereas your piece is perky, springy, alert. It isn’t paintdoing- what-comes-naturally.

JM: I’ve never been one of those materialists who think paint is more interesting in the can. For me, painting is not about paint, or even about paint on a support. For me, it is about structures: illusionistic structures, logical structures, worldly structures, all sorts of structures. I’m not interested in paint simply as a material.

RL: So why paint?

JM: I stay interested in painting: it’s a way of collapsing the separation of the mental and the bodily that I experience in so many other parts of life.

RL: So, you’re affirming rather than critiquing painting.

JM: I’m questioning and hopeful. I’m asking what can painting still say, and hopeful that it can still say something.

 

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Robert Leonard is Director of the Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane.