The shifting, fragmenting images in Canterbury-trained artist Adrienne Millwood’s softly coloured paintings suggest multiple possibilities, but few certainties. Repurposing found images – including the negatives of old family photographs discovered in a second-hand book shop – she abstracts and extrapolates them to such a degree that definitive interpretations become elusive. With their glimpses of unknown and unknowable lives, her works tempt us towards intimacies just beyond our reach. In this issue of takahē, a selection of Millwood’s paintings is paired with the personal, poetic response that follows by artist and writer Zoe Crook, who surveys some of the many tangents that circulate invitingly within them.
– Felicity Milburn
￼The Photograph then becomes a bizarre medium, a new form of hallucination: false on the level of perception, true on the level of time: a temporal hallucination, so to speak, a modest shared hallucination (on the one hand, ‘it is not there’, on the other ‘but it has indeed been’): a mad image, chafed by reality.
– Roland Barthes ¹
The abstract is black and white.
The nomadic and the childlike (that without shadows and that which rests in Neverland) is coloured in pastels.
IMAGE 1: Circle III (2014)
Hallucination – a perception in the absence of external stimulus located in external objective space.
In physical form, it is not a misinterpretation, nor is it delusional. It encourages curiosity, suggestive interstice.
Hallucination comes from alucinari, meaning to wander in the mind.
But in this case it is closer to a ripple, as though someone has wandered across the surface of the image, given it goose-bumps, touched its surface and adjusted the frame with a finger’s presence. A tracing of a wall, a seductive movement – seductive in the sense that it is an action intended to be followed.
Sound energy; the form of energy associated with the vibration or disturbance of matter, which requires an object to pass through it.
A form of colour, a form of painting that vibrates the invisible visible. You would think that colour vibrating together would mix, that it would materialize together as grey.
The grey area: an area intermediate between two mutually exclusive states.
But Millwood proves no man is an island; those charged particles are clarified, as though in a centrifuge – they are diagnosed as an apparition out of and within the image. The space between.
Aether: a classical element and personification of the upper-sky-space and heaven in Greek mythology.
Air. The colours in Millwood’s work have a commonality, just as we share the air to breathe.
Like clouds of dust, or bursts of speed in cartoons, these colours suggest movement. But in this case, the action is not as decisive as that of Taz in Bugs Bunny; rather the abstractions and chromatic scaling act as forms attempting to materialize.
A 1982 book ‘Understanding your life through colour’ investigates the idea of the ‘Indigo Child’, a person with an indigo aura believed to possess special, unusual and sometimes super-natural traits and abilities.
The painting is an altered state of consciousness; ‘mind revealing’ or ‘mind clearing’, in the original sense of the Greek words that combine to form the modern term ‘psychedelic’.
IMAGE 2: The Witness (2015)
As Millwood’s works evolve and the figures from the original, salvaged transfers and slides become less discernible, the physical properties of her chosen ground emerge, increasingly asserting the importance of materiality as well as meaning. With a more intensive technique, approaching automatism, the work exerts more colour as though feeling the need to explain itself further.
Suggesting an almost trance-like state, the strokes and dots in The Witness (2015) are akin to language. Figures are replaced with pieces of discarded paper, a material that carries the traces of human touch. In these newer works, the particles of sociality that are evident in Plane (2011) and other earlier works that register Millwood’s understanding of space through a nostalgia of action and response, are elided because the medium itself – those anonymous reams of recycled paper – limits any suggestion of personality.
Pastel/pastelles: Literally, material reduced to paste.
Essentially soft colour, let’s call it reality once removed; this is hopeful colour, but it is receptive too. In Millwood’s latest series, the abstraction and diffusion of recognisable forms have resulted in a palette with a ‘grimier’ appearance.
IMAGE 3: Alice came across a lion and a unicorn in a forest of forgetfulness (2015)
In Alice came across a lion and a unicorn in a forest of forgetfulness (2015), a window painting installed in a temporary gallery in Christchurch in July, Millwood’s expressive title, co-opted from a brainteaser, offers form to an otherwise abstract work.
The ‘pastel’ language of the title provides a contrast with the strict lines of the architecture on which it is placed. Millwood’s action in rendering these images finds an echo in the window’s task of translating the light, movement and weather it allows into the gallery space . The trance-like effect of the colouring in other works here finds form through the relationship of wall to floor, sun to cloud.
Science and fiction, softness and trance, like the photophobia of the CSI series: known for its unusual camera angles and percussive editing, its historical reconstructions.
Story Version 4.0 (2015), part of a suite of works Millwood made after discovering a cache of the negatives of old family photographs, is sci-fi-like in both name and image: the forgetfulness of anonymity lending it an uncertainty, like the‘fug’ that clouded the minds of those leaving the Isle of the Lotus Eaters. Millwood cares for them in the true sense of curation; opens the scenes up for clarification, questions and curiosity.
Space to meditate.
A gallery should be a place you frequent to see, not look; a place where bubbles can become foam once more.
And so we move to the black and white, to the gallery walls we hang these Indigo children upon.
Although it can be argued that the goal of a gallery is to produce the Barnum Effect (in which individuals find personal validation and meaning in generalised statements) Millwood neutralizes, distills and shatters. Working backwards, the anonymous – these photographs of old, discarded papers and slides from op-shops – are mused upon and within. The abstraction she adds to them begins to function in the white cube as these photographs filter moments. It is an intensive, but gentle, attempt to colour in feeling.
Her paintings do not pretend to relate specifically to us, they look at space, at the suggestive narrows of an airplane stairwell in Plane, the haunted eaves of an old house in the Story Version 4.0 series or the contents of a recycling bin in her most recent, more abstracted, works.
Millwood has used the forgotten to connect with it more.
Architecture + space.
We gaze with kaleidoscope-tinted glasses.
IMAGE 4: Plane (2011)
Spaced out: the narrowing of the senses to specific sensitivity.
Applied to these images, these paradoxical solid moments of time vibrate out their paradox, expulse their solidity. Liquid again, the colours are not on the surface or separate from the work, rather they are among the figures, a part of them and a shared thing. Their pastel natures become washed stains, the evidence of a process.
Like a kaleidoscope moved by an unseen hand, their
image is a production of impossibility.
Like Lichtenstein painting ben-day dots, they are technology filters, appropriated and played with.
Broken up, broken through, they gift time – constructing a ‘Monsters, Inc’ of doors that open onto different presents.
The stains of thought free up space to meditate.
Minimalistic in their expressionism, they challenge the painter – ‘how do I not be’.
In exposing the colours that the work channels, there is no room for an ego to survive, it is not personal, not about control and anxiety, rather it is about discovery; layering, transferring. It is purposely undermining the conventional relationship between painter and painting.
Our position vanishes.
Spinoza² understands freedom as the power of the mind to understand what happens to the body, which generates thought itself.
This is Millwood’s body of work.
Taste the sky…allow me to provoke…all these helium hues in array of amusement, flicking the stars from the sky…body language like piano keys…can you imagine a field…of flickers and flashes ‘cause our joy is electric…I taste you in infinite colours.
– Kaleidoscope Dream (Salaam Remi / Miguel Pimentel/ Labi Siffre)
Good vibrations and Kaleidoscope dreams.
1 Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, New York: Hill and Wang, 1981, p. 115.
2 Baruch Spinoza, Dutch philosopher (1632 -1677).