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
Dark Mofo : 2017: 8 - 21 June at Rosny Barn / Clarence Arts and Events.
Cur. Tracey Cockburn and Dark Mofo
Catalogue Essay by Leigh Hobba
Milan smiles tolerantly as I launch into my barista appraisal – there is no redemption when it comes to morning after gym Machiato – it’s a flat white for Milan – he gets excited at the thought of a re-fill while only a second sip into the first.
He is fairly jumping halfway through his second.
But then, he is never far away from excitement.
I ponder, as usual, what play-list he dialled for the just concluded session – he is never far from a lyric for all occasions – he starts to talk about elephants and jugglers, parades of the exotic, the weird and wonderful conjured magical beings, an entourage from another world , a world now surreal in his memory – that other one his childhood was surrounded by as he segued through sanitised memories of the hell of Serbia that his parents escaped post war, relocated to North Hobart/Mt Stuart via Bronte Park hydro camps in the early 50’s. You can take the boy out of Serbia but you cant take Serbia out of the ....... ...art work . Memories pretty much locked away in the Balkan Wunderkammer of dispersed objects and memories - until now with a roll of drums it is unleashed and the room is filled with all the other world-colour, beauty and hybrid weirdness that despite the contemporary overlay, still allows a remembered design fragment of table cloth , tea towel, lace or wall paper patterns as if a glimpse of a tëlina't beneath a pështjellak.
Further remembered as if a genetic smear from a fallen tear, - led into the ring by the ukulele and the dancing elephant, - the zoological, botanical geometrical and asymmetrical patterning of the brightly covered scarves as fluttered by the parade of the pagans, the imagined scree of the exertions as a sound track to the idols as expressed through motifs of snakes and roosters, or other horny thorny things, challenging the delicacy of soft beauty - transformed beyond imagining, through imaging - as the sun blindingly reflects from dangling jewelry – gold and silver necklaces, bracelets and rings – followed now by the beaded and embroidered embellishments of love - how wondrous it is to turn the Balkan cabinet key for this night of the Wunderkammerama – begone you black dogs and wipe the Balkan killing fields’ mud from your dragon skin feet on the mat of the ever optimistic –
I will fight you with my beauty.
Who let you out ?
a lyric for another occasion
tick one for Art.
Milan’s morning playlist is a giveaway when his mind returns to the present with a short rendition of “Mr. Kite” from the Beatles Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band studio album. The austere inheritance collides with psychedelic rock circus as the second cup caffeine hits and images of a tasseled Joybelle, at the head of this wondrous parade of bejeweled beastie tragics enters the room. “Once,” she smiles coyly, beading.
John Lennon found the 1843 Pablo Fanque Circus Royal poster that inspired “Benefit of Mr. Kite” in a Kent, England, antique shop. So too does Milan haunt repositories with his compulsive eye for an image printed on this or that – an antique tin toy- a rare edition pop-up paperbook - picture frames for as yet to be imagined or realized images, collector edition anythings, all with democratic interest, synthesized now into this Wunderkammerama.
“Mr Kite will introduce the Celebrated Horse Zanthus, while Mr Henderson will undertake the arduous task of throwing 21 Somersets with Mr Kite on the tightrope and Mr. Henderson will introduce extraordinary leaps over men and horses, through hoops, over Garters and lastly through a Hogshead of Real Fire”. I sing along in my head.
“Can I get a set of steel strings for my Ukelele”? Milan calls across the café, sighting someone who would know. Tiny Tim is in his Luna Park. The world is Milan’s cabinet of curiosities – he is an artist - scholar of the object, idea and image, who shares the motivations of the original C17th wunderkammerists– the desire to bring all knowledge into a single space.
Studio of the artist Andreas (commonly known as Milan). Sitting on shelves in easy juxtaposition; The Beatles Complete- Easy Guitar edition New Worlds from Old – NGA Catalogue The Art and craft of Montage by Simon Larbalestier Postcards from the Boys by Ringo Starr – a Tasmanian Devil postcard a curious inclusion.. From the wall the iconic (Sir) Peter Blake cover for the Sgt Peppers Album, next to the equally influential Disraeli Gears and Wheels on Fire covers for the Cream by Martin Sharp.
His own studio Wunderkammer peels back its layers For those that know him, this interface, the condensing of experience of a lyric into song, equally as an image into print, is part of the essential Milan. No interdisciplinary barriers here, just how one observes and expresses a life being lived – a lead singer for his discipline – play another image .
Milan/Andreas flattens 230 layers and the magic of detail, colour, line form and vision vibrates on the screen but prints a bit flat – emboss it with a plate texture, some transparentiser with a dash of cadmium blue and that will lift off the paper and jump out of the frame – confident in the mastering of technique , materials and methods that stretch back to his apprenticeship at Landfall Press in late 70’s Chicago, followed by 30 years or so of encouraging others that the world is a better place for each new print that comes off a plate, woodcut, stone, offset of any kind,.... or a potato. (“his best work was that little potato print he did in first year” he says of a student he recalls from his years as Head of the Print Making Department at the University School of Art.) If you’ve got a problem, print it !
I leave the studio with a Terry Allen vinyl, executive produced by Jack Lemon at Landfall Press Inc. during the time Milan was there as the go-to colourist. The lyrics give backdrop imagery to his stories of road trips and studio attitudes, late night art, commitment of the discipline and coming of age. Terry sings, “...she told me she liked art but that she couldn’t draw a line that was straight enough. I told her if she could reach something and pick it up, she could draw a line that was straight enough. She said she wasn’t interested in that kind of drawing, but had always liked horses. I said I did too, but they were hard to draw......”
Stories of Chicago roll out into experience.” Here is a little thing I learnt at Landfall”, Milan says, dropping a touch of dioxazine purple into a dollop of Pantone transwhite. He watches with doubt as I roll it out straight on to the paper – the print maker recoils a little looking for a plate - the offset- “you can always sign that as a Unique State” he mumbles –“ an edition of Unique States maybe”, I respond, wanting to better understand his world from within my world of sonic histories and digital fictions. Terry sings
A blank space
In the hallway
On the wallway
Between the hangings
That ain’t lonely
At all ........
Well ....the Art Mob’s out tonight
Yeah.....the Art Mob’s out tonight
Ahhh....you better look good
Yeah ....you better act right
The Art Mob’s out tonight.”
“I love the smell of a print room,” Milan reminisces.