What would it be like to draw every leaf of a tree? Andrew Millner asks that question, and Biophilia is his answer. His new work, opening at the William Shearburn Gallery on December 1st, investigates in excruciating detail the wondrous contours of living things. Biophilia, (literally, attracted to the living), chronicles his investigations of endless, sinuous shapes of leaves, trees, and plants, reducing living things to their outlines. The French painter Manet said, “There are no lines in nature,” but Millner belies that notion. He sees the garden exclusively as lines, the idiosyncrasies of his hand doggedly following the endless variety of botanical forms.
The largest piece in the show, Perennial, measures 26 feet long, and is nothing less than the outlines of every stem, leaf and petal of a garden. The drawings hold onto the transient life of plants with lassoes of lines. Simple broad leaves loop like weightless, large bubbles, while more compact, multi-petaled flowers knot with complexity.
The perennial aspect of this subject is echoed by Millner’s studio practice. The originals are hand-drawn on a computer, using a pen and an electronic tablet. It is only later that they are printed as part of the whole garden or as a stand-alone print. The digital media allows the drawing to extend over months, and in the garden’s case, possibly years, without any set scale or date of completion. To Millner the garden is an ongoing work that can be added to indefinitely, seasonally.
Endless information can confound as well as elucidate. The closer one gets to these works the more one can see. These drawings bring the outdoor world to us, indoors and within reach. The tops of the trees are as visible as the bottoms; the back branches are as visible as the front. Millner’s drawings offer a dramatic botanical trip, a paean to the leaf, limb and petal.
See a breakthrough at Shearburn: by David Bonetti
December 24, 2006
David Bonetti Post-Dispatch Visual Arts Critic
‘Andrew Millner: Biophilia’
There’s nothing more exciting than witnessing that all too rare moment when an artist breaks through to another level of achievement. In his first solo exhibition in St. Louis since 2001, Andrew Millner seems to be making that jump.
Until now, I’d seen only a couple of his paintings. One that I didn’t like struck me as designery; another I did like was simpler – large gestural marks across a horizontal surface that reminded me of Japanese calligraphy or at least of Franz Kline’s interpretation of Japanese calligraphy.
In his new works, Millner has left painting behind – but not drawing, although not drawing in the traditional sense. There are no handmade marks in ink, graphite, charcoal, pastel or any other matter, natural or synthetic, on a surface.
The drawing process is once removed from the final product. Millner draws on the computer then prints his enlarged renderings through a digital process. That print is mounted on Plexiglass, underscoring its machine based generation.
If the final product is removed from the process of its making, it is removed an additional step from the initial act of vision. The obects seen here -trees and flowering plants- have been photographed rather than drawn to begin with. The entire project is about the levels of mediation we bring to our experience of even the most natural materials.
That might seem like old hat, but Millner’s works are fresh and original. His intentions are more philosophical than technological. His goal, as he suggests in a gallery statement, is to render precisely every leaf of a tree, ever petal of a flower, giving each equal value and weight.
Ruskinian in implication, these technologically produced images are profoundly romantic. Traditional one-point focus is overthrown, every leaf is seen in its imperfect perfection.
The prints are beautiful in that exalted way when idea and vision are in balance. Looking at these images of dogwood, Japanese maple, cottonwood and mognolia trees is like seeing the idea of “tree” through specific specimens.
One spectacular work deviates from the norm. “Perennial” is a 26 foot long work composed of many separate prints taped together and pinned directly to the wall. In this case, instead of taking a photograph of an individual tree or plant, Millner planted himself and his computer in front of his summer perennial garden in Aspen, Colorado and drew what he saw directly on the computer. The immediacy of the piece suggests that direct observation might trump mediation.