Museum of Contemporary Art, donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Henry Ergas, 2009
oil on canvas (3 panels)
150 × 120cm
Painting, as Nigel Milsom once wrote, is something he was ‘compelled to do’. He is an artist who has relied on his own curiosity about the legacy of painting history as well as his formal art school training. The influences have been far ranging: from the nineteenth-century Japanese master Hokusai to Gerhard Richter, to American painters like Edward Hopper and, more recently, Alex Katz, (who Milsom believes ‘is the man who has brought painting through the ages … now we can all do exactly what we want’). As to the source material for his own painting, the artist has commented: ‘it can come from anywhere … I will use whatever I need in order to squeeze out a different take on an age-old language.’
Milsom is a painter who thrives on exploring, extrapolating and exploiting the history of his chosen medium. Some recent subjects have incorporated still-life imagery, architectural structures and personal photographic material transformed through simple formalist picture making processes. This is evident in his lavish blue-black triptych Untitled (it’s all kept together by moving around) (2006).The title is playfully suggestive as is the subject-matter: seemingly abstract, the work reveals on closer inspection an agitated mass of brush-strokes which suggest trees buffeted by the wind; or a gothic vision of the night landscape. This suggestiveness is typical of Milsom’s surfaces – what appears to be monochromatic is in fact very painterly. The artist’s brushwork and modulations of colour, tints and tones are the means he uses to heighten the image quality rather than representational illusion. In Milsom’s terms, a painting is successful only ‘when it announces the limits of painting and shows you that whatever the image is, it’s a painting – a fabrication operating in very clear space … whether it’s illusion or not, it is just paint, a material substance that can stand for many things.’
My aim is to develop alternative and original formal strategies that give meaning and content to experience. My work emphasises the importance of autobiographical history and local vernacular.
Nigel Milsom, 2010