Opening Address at Colville Gallery, Hobart, 10 June 2018
“Tipping My Hat To A Lot Of Printmaking History”
Thank you very much. Always great to be back in my equal favourite place on the planet. The other being the Pier Art Centre in Stromness, in the Orkney Islands of Scotland – a place Milan knows well. I have called this short opening address “Tipping My Hat To A Lot Of Printmaking History” from a remark Milan made to me about his research at the Royal Academy in London, studying the works of Turner and others and looking at their printmaking innovations. From this, Milan built his own lexicon of engraved marks, allowing him to create a patina of depth through ever-richer lines.
Milan is one of those great friends who you may go for years without seeing, and when you do meet up again you immediately pick up from where you left off last time. In our case that usually means enthusing about Peacock Printmakers in Aberdeen in the north-east coast of Scotland, or swapping stories about the Chicago art scene, or talking about artworld gossip: locally, nationally, and internationally. Milan will ask me of any news of Ronnie Forbes in Scotland, and I’ll enquire about Paul Zika or Mary Scott. The other great thing about such a friendship – as well as seeing each other’s very different careers develop, change, and sometimes overlap – is that you are constantly finding out (every few years) new nuggets of information about each other, and new commonalities. Sitting having a chinwag in numerous cafes, restaurants, and bars over the last few days, while I was involved in judging the Hutchins Art Prize - with artist Pat Brassington, and Ted Colless, editor of Art and Australia - and Milan was busy hanging this great exhibition, we discovered, variously, that we both had a great love of the 60s band The Kinks, and even shared the same favourite tracks that you will find on most compilations – Waterloo Sunset, Death of A Clown, Dedicated Follower of Fashion, and more obscure numbers like David Watts. I was intrigued to hear that while his father was Serbian, his mother was German and helped him with his application for his very fruitful DAAD residency to Hamburg. He, I think, was surprised to learn that my mother was Australian, born in Balmain Sydney, and my grandfather was an ANZAC who fought in the trenches in Northern France in the First World War. And so it was that even in this late stage of our lives we continued to learn more about each other.
In Hamburg, Milan had frequented La Paloma bar, owned by the great German neo-Expressionist painter Jorg Immendorff. It became a famous art bar, full of artworks from everyone including Joseph Beuys to George Baeslitz. And I had interviewed Immendorff in Edinburgh in 1983 for Artscribe magazine. We had both met our heroes over the years – Milan through printmaking and working as a Masters Apprentice in Chicago, he came to meet and make prints for Claus Oldenburg, Jim Dine, Robert Indiana, Christo, and Philip Pearlstein. And I met some of my heroes through interviewing a range of artists for differnet magazines, including Rosmarie Trockel, Ed Ruscha, Marina Abramovic, Martin Kippenberger, Donald Judd, and Ian Hamilton Finlay. In both cases, “making prints for” and “interviewing” was also code for “drinking with” and enthusing about art, life, and the universe. Apparently Philip Pearlstein referred to Milan as The Green Man because he could expertly mix a particular shade of green that others in the workshop had difficulty doing.
The other night we got to speaking about the Scottish neo-figurative painters – Steven Campbell, John Bellany, Adrian Wiszniewski, Ken Currie, Gwen Hardie, Bruce Maclean, and Peter Howson (the next generation based in Scotland were all mostly female artists Christine Borland, Jenny Saville, Susan Phillipsz, Claire Barclay, and today’s rising star Rachel Maclean). But mention of the first group brings me back to Peacock Printmakers in Aberdeen, one of the world’s great printmaking studios, founded by the legendary Arthur Watson who has now risen to the lofty heights of President of the Royal Scottish Academy and to which he has brought both dynamism and innovation.
Milan and Arthur became great friends and shared a similar energy and ability for hard work and ambitious projects. This often meant doing “all-nighters” when necessity dictated, and still being able to work through the following day. At that time Peacock had produced a bestiary of animals – 21 prints in all made by most of the above-mentioned artists, in every form of printmaking available – etching, lithography, woodcuts, silkscreens, and possibly some invented for the occasion (Arthur, for example, made great prints using a chainsaw and old doors. Scale was always seen as a challenge not a limitation). The prints in the Bestiary were suitably large in scale and sold to museums around the world. Milan was very influenced by the possibilities of this project and by bestiaries in particular. You can see it everywhere in his work here today. And you can go back over thirty years to those formative times in Aberdeen when he was artist- in-residence, dreaming up challenges for the future.
Chance plays a great role in all our lives, but it takes the particular genius of someone like Milan to capitalise on those chance events. He was telling me the other day, in the bar opposite the Broke Street Pier, that he was once looking for a book by the Scottish writer John Buchan, who wrote The Thirty-Nine Steps, in a Waterstone’s bookshop in Aberdeen. He didn’t find the book he wanted, but alphabetically on the same shelf was a book of short stories by the blind South American writer Jorge Luis Borges. It changed Milan’s life, and fed his imagination with fruitful images for years to come.
When I think of Milan’s work from those earlier days, I tend to think of prints predominately in black and white, sometimes with a lipstick smear of red or brown infiltrating the image. But look around you here at how his work has evolved as digital technologies have opened up new horizons for printmakers everywhere including, as he told me, a coral-reef-like palette of 15.3 million digital colours.
Milan has always been an innovator, and will continue to be so for many years down the track. So enjoy these works, and look forward to what he will be doing five, ten, fifteen years from now. All we know is it will be different again from what you see here and will have moved with the times – in fact it will be ahead of the times – as is all the fabulous work you see here. And if you want a more eloquent and very personal introduction to the marvellous world that Milan inhabits, can I recommend a brilliant essay by Leigh Hobba, written for his Wunderkammerama show at Dark Mofo in 2017?
Thank you, and enjoy…
Dr Peter Hill is an artist, writer, and independent curator C 2018