Beauty of the Week: “Room” by Lisa Milroy

“room” [Habitación] (1997), by Lisa Milroy, is an oil on canvas 1750 × 1983 mm, acquired by the Tate in 1998, which has not been exhibited to the public

The East, for those of us who live in the West, is a mixture of mystery, allure and respect for a culture diametrically opposed to the familiar. Choosing a piece of art that illustrates a calm, neat, and ascetic room—both to describe it and to paint it—says a lot about the person making the choice and their motivations.

Lisa Milroy was born in Vancouver in 1959 and became known for her still lifes of everyday objects. In the 1980s, the paintings of Milroy they featured ordinary objects depicted on an off-white background. But over time he expanded his work, creating different series, including landscapes, buildings and portraits. As his approaches to still life varied, so did his way of painting, allowing him to make stylistic innovations. Throughout her career she has been fascinated by the relationship between stillness and movement and the nature of painting and looking at the picture.

He began painting Japanese prints in the 1980s because they were one of the subject categories for the still lifes he was working on during that time. He said in an interview that engravings allow him to depict an ordinary subject at the same time as depicting scenes of people in their daily activities. “The more I was absorbed in painting these charming scenes, the more I forgot about the engravings; in my mind I was entering an imaginary space where I could almost hear the roar of the crowd, feel the weight of the kimono, smell food being cooked, hear women chatting,” she said at the time.

Japanese Prints, by Lisa Milroy (circa 1980)
Japanese Prints, by Lisa Milroy (circa 1980)

What he learned from the Japanese prints was something about the nature of painting: this shift between the immaterial and the material reflects a fundamental aspect of painting itself. As he paints and manipulates the material, he abstracts himself from the matter to allow himself to be with the images that his head dictates, as well as with what he feels in front of the canvas. In 1978 he moved to London for a foundation course in Saint Martin’s School of Art and received a BA from Goldsmiths CollegeUniversity of London in 1982. His first solo exhibition in 1984 was based on still lifes.

In the late 1990s, he used Japanese prints to develop his approach to still life painting in terms of storytelling, which was linked to his interest in painting people. The Japanese print that helped her make this change shows a group of people in a pleasure boat floating down a river. He was drawn to this image of people clustered in one place, the ship, but also moving through an ever-changing landscape; I loved the way they were still and moving at the same time. By painting this print, I wanted to convey something of those specific moments that bring people together and set the stage for a future story or memory.

“Japanese Prints” (2000), oil on canvas, 198.1 x 315 cm

In 1989, he won John Moores Painting Prizeand since 2009 Lisa Milroy teaches in Slade School of Fine Art, London; was elected a member of Royal Academy of Arts in 2005 and was named Tate Art Trustee from 2013 to 2017 and National Gallery Liaison Trustee from 2015 to 2017.

Some of his transcriptions of Japanese prints are overlaid with bands of color and other geometric shapes because he finds it interesting to explore different aspects of painting and its relationship to the world. He has expressed on occasion that when he makes a Japanese print, the interplay between the fixed lines of the real print and the movement he gives them through the painting gives him a deep sense of liberation. And it is interesting to see what he conveys with his delicate strokes, which closely resemble those of Oriental painters.

The Japanese prints piqued his curiosity about Japan itself, a country he visited in 1989 for an exhibition of British art that included some of his work. This first experience had a strong impact on her because of the appeal of this universe and how visually compelling it was. However, she felt somewhat excluded by the feeling of otherness, unfamiliarity with the language and its customs. He managed to get around it unscathed and the works created know how to convey the essence of the Japanese country.

“Tokyo”, 1993, oil on polyester, 24 x 35 cm

The theme of connection and disconnection, of the known and the unknown is one of her great concerns as an artist, and so she turns her idea of ​​Japan into an important artistic catalyst. It is encouraged to play in art with strong characters about Japanese culture such as geisha. And without ignoring them, she was encouraged to make them bold, breaking the rules that allowed her to escape her shyness.

Beyond Japanese prints and prints, he has a prolific series of paintings and installations focusing on everyday objects such as shoes, light bulbs, clothing and food. in 2015 Lisa Milroyin an effort to share the art created Hands On Art Workshopsprogram that engages primary and secondary school students in Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya, in hands-on art workshops that she teaches from London via video conference sessions.


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