Andrew Millner Reinvents The Rose In More Ways Than One
The gallery is awash with roses at William Shearburn’s Skinker Boulevard showroom: In bright oranges, reds, blacks, pinks, yellows and whites, they’re painted on canvas straight from the tube, made of loose loops and lines that both follow and—due to the acrylic’s thickness—deviate from what looks like a pencilled outline. These works are the centerpiece of artist Andrew Millner’s “Rose Parade,” running now through Nov. 6. The exhibit marks a critical turning point that’s been a decade in the making—representing that hallelujah!, sigh-of-relief exhale of an artist who’s finally wrangled the abstract idea he’s been chasing throughout his career.
This is the fifth of the local artist’s shows at the gallery, each previous one representing a phase in his path toward this culmination. At first, Millner says, his work leapt from a tea set: Captivated by the repetition of the components and how slight changes in perspective can produce radically different perceptions of the objects, he created a series that reduced cups and saucers down to their most basic elements: circles. A focus on flowers— painted on a slick canvas, frozen there to almost-photographic effect—was next. “Every time I painted a flower, it was unique, even if I painted the same flower more than once,” Millner says. Like the teacups, leaves become loops, distilling the flower into the elemental idea of it. Eventually he transitioned into trees and began drawing, for the first time, on a computer.
“I knew what the world was like before the digital revolution, and now I see the revolution playing out. It’s sort of a privileged position to have one foot in both, and I always try to have my work be in both places,” Millner explains.
Finally, roses caught his eye, and in 2012 he flew out to Pasadena to photograph the flowers used in the annual Tournament of Roses parade. He’d been hit by the need to look at the event from other perspectives: “There’s a mortality aspect to it,” he says, citing Elliott Smith’s dark song, “The Rose Parade,” as inspiration, as well as the idea of memento mori in the first still-lifes. “I think everyone just looks at the beauty of it, but it brings to mind that it’s a very ephemeral, temporary thing that’s fitting for the new year.”
The resulting works—now on view at Shearburn—were a year and a half in conception. First Millner uses the computer-drawn-to-canvas technique and then squeezes acrylic paint directly from the tube to follow the pencil-like printed lines. But, due to the paint’s thickness, he never traces the lines precisely, just as nature’s forms are imperfect. The canvas that results is a tapestry of rose translations: from nature to hand-drawn to mechanized, and then hand-worked again to mirror nature. By distilling the rose down to its simplest elements, he opens the space for layers of meaning that, once absorbed, change your idea of the work completely. A rose is a rose is a rose? For Millner, hardly.
This story appeared in the November 2015 issue.