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.