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Bachelor of Fine Art (Honours), MADA

By Georgia Puiatti

29 November 2022
  • Liz Bird, Milly James

Artists Milly James and Liz Bird’s canvases entwine across the gallery space, sharing aesthetic and sensorial compatibility. Although showing in different rooms, the artists have installed their work in a way that piques the senses. They evoke a kind of synesthesia that confuses colour, shape and movement with language and nuanced sentiment. It is a fever dream of oranges, Advil, nasturtiums and glow sticks.

James’s works Lump Sum, Migraine Aura, Fresh Glow and Dream Furnace (all 2022) are linear in their instalment. They are a clean horizontal line across the western wall of the MADA Now gallery. Lump Sum, a mint green that knots upon itself. Migraine Aura, a creamy fog of grey and salmon, pierced with blue orbs. Pain piercings, migraine blues. Fresh Glow, a blue-grey bulbous haze and a phosphoresce yellow ovoid. And Dream Furnace, a mollified berry, violet and yellow.

Installation view of Milly James, Lump Sum, 2022, oil on canvas, 70 x 82 cm; Migraine Aura, 2022, oil on canvas, 35 x 40 cm; Fresh Glow, 2022, oil on canvas, 90.2 x 110.2 cm; Dream Furnace, 2022, oil on canvas, 70 x 82 cm.

The titling of these paintings is integral to the sensorial experience of the work. James uses language in her titles to lend a quasi-representational quality to otherwise abstract paintings. These titles harness and perfectly articulate the canvases, evoking an aesthetic bind between language and abstraction.

Installation view of Milly James, Fresh Glow, 2022, oil on canvas, 902 x 1102 cm; Dream Furnace, 2022, oil on canvas, 70 x 82 cm.

Similarly, Bird’s works evoke the sensorial quality of abstraction. Another daydream for the senses. In contrast to James’ heady colour-soaked canvases, Bird uses a more delineated brushstroke and small garden objects to accompany her paintings.

Bird’s paintings are dynamic, lines in movement, entangled across one another, clear undulations of ocean blue and afternoon warmth. If you view the work in the late afternoon, gold marks the corner of Emulsion Fog (2022)—the sun intruding upon the work. Bird’s abstractions are reminiscent of sun-drenched grasses and soft flowers found in urban garden spaces. Her work seeks a visceral evocation of these scenes.

Installation view of Liz Bird, Gossamer Trail, 2022, oil on linen, 163 x 183 cm; Petrified Orange; Sun Dish, 2022, oil on linen, 31 x 30 cm; Pith Saver, 2022, oil on linen, 121 x 163 cm; Iris.

Moving through her website, Bird’s process is laid bare. As you hover the mouse across each of her works, images are revealed. These images share a likeness in texture and colour with the paintings that they accompany. In a similar practice, Bird has left small objects at the edges of the MADA Now gallery space. A petrified orange, the dried stem and flower of an iris and a wire-glow-stick arm that stands on the windowsill. In the gallery space, these objects act like the images on Bird’s website: they are the marginalia of her ideas and aesthetic inclinations. The feeling of a crisp iris stem, the sharp wire and a soft orange are experienced visually through her painting practice.

Both James’s and Bird’s paintings feel like memories. A particular nostalgia defines each. Both use colour, line and movement as evocations of nuance. And it is this nuance that invokes a very mundane sentiment. A self-induced migraine, oranges forgotten in the fruit bowl, wet glow-sticks on the grass.

Georgia Puiatti is currently completing her Bachelor in Arts at The University of Melbourne.

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