Happy New Year friends! I hope it’s gotten off to a great start for y’all.
ConversationsWithBianca.com’s first interview feature for 2013 is with Melbourne-based artist Minna Gilligan (last year we kicked things off chatting with How Do I Look? host Jeannie Mai). I adore Minna’s art. It’s so alive, a technicolour world of mixed media that sparks the imagination! Just looking at her beautiful work makes my heart burst with joy. I have my new Rookie family to thank for introducing me to her awesomeness. Let’s get to it!
You come from a family that in your own words are “pretty entrenched” in the arts industry so, is it safe to say you grew up surrounded by a lot of art?
MINNA GILLIGAN: Yes, definitely. My Grandfather was an artist and his watercolour paintings are hung in every member of my family’s houses. They’re haunting remnants for me, beautiful, lilting scenes from lands far away that really imprinted upon me as a child. He died young, before I was born from a disease called Motor Neuron. His five children, my Dad and other Aunts and Uncles, have all taken paths in creative fields – my Father a garden designer, my Aunt an artist and gallery owner, another of my Aunts, a writer. I grew up surrounded by walls heavy with paintings, with people who helped me gain an understanding of what it means to be ‘creative’ and to think in that way.
What does it mean to you to be an artist?
MG: For me, being an artist is largely about being an observer, collecting and collating experiences in your mind that seem significant to you as an individual. I feel lucky to be an artist, to approach things from left of field, to have that ‘other’ space to let things breathe. I like how each work I make can carry a sentiment, an experience, and I can let this out to exist in the world like a song on the radio, entering people’s lives subtly but intimately.
How did you first come to making photomontage style collages?
MG: As a child in the 90s, before we had access to Google Images, a computer or a printer, I used to be obsessed with collecting pictures of the Spice Girls from magazines. To have that physical image in my hand was somehow really significant and precious to me. Early in my time at Art School I made a lot of abstract drawings and paintings, and I felt like they needed a protagonist or something, a point of reference so the image was more obviously narrative. I started consciously sticking these characters in the abstract ground, making up stories in my mind, parallels to me and my life.
I know that you find many of the images you use in your work from books and magazines found at thrift stores; what’s some of your recent favourite finds from thrifting?
MG: Gosh, I literally have human height stacks of books and magazines in my room. There are a few that really stand out amongst stuff I’ve found like ‘Hands Off’ by Bob Jones, which is a book on women’s self-defence featuring THE Stevie Nicks karate kicking and punching in a 70s jumpsuit.
What’s one of your favourite pieces you have created and what’s its significance to you?
MG: I think all my works are significant to me in different ways, as each is a particular slice of my existence. I couldn’t say I have a specific favourite at risk of devaluing any other works in my mind, so I guess I can go the utilitarian route and say that I like them all equally and for different reasons!
As well as making art you also write poems, they’re both creative outlets; what started you writing poetry?
MG: I think I started writing poetry in 2009, during an *emotional* time combined with long hours spent not leaving my room. I made a series of Zines called ‘Praying 4 u’ which featured short, crude little badly rhymed poems about unrequited love and being far away from people. I really like the immediacy of writing poetry, the “bang for your buck” in a short, to the point line that hits really hard.
Do you have a favourite poem?
MG: ‘I carry your heart’ by e.e cummings. It kills me every time.
Who are some writers who have influenced you, who have meant a lot to you?
MG: Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell are really significant figures for me. I grew up with their music in the car as a child, they conjured up such vivid imaginings that blew my tiny mind. Now, their sentiments are some of the most important things to me in the world.
I understand that you’re a fan of Vali Myers work; how did you first come to her work and what is it about it that resonates with you?
MG: I first came to know Vali’s work through Ella Hooper, a friend of mine, who’s Mother was friends with her. She told me about this drawing Vali made for her and how precious it was. I did some research, read her Biography, and became obsessed not only with her work but with her whole being and philosophy. She was an otherworldly institution, a force of nature to be reckoned with. Her rages were like electrical storms and her love like lying in a thousand fields of poppies. I only wish I could have crossed paths with her on this earth.
In a previous interview you mentioned that you and your “wonderful art school friends” sometimes have strange and obscure themed parties; tell us about one of your favourites.
MG: I just finished my last year at the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) in 2012. I made some of the most incredible friends during my time there, people I’d never thought even existed during my formative years at a private Catholic girls High School. One of my favourite parties was a Roald Dahl themed one, where we ACTUALLY MADE schnozcumbers with cucumbers and tuna. I went as the spider from James and the Giant Peach and thankfully did not resort to actually eating any schnozcumbers. Other fun themes have been ‘Decadence’, ‘Disguise’, and ‘Art Burning’ – where we burnt all of our old and hated art on a huge Bonfire. I won’t go into details but the fire brigade was also in attendance.
I’ve read you’re a fan of the Golden Girls and like to watch it with your nana! What is it that you love so much about them? Which character do you most identify with?
MG: I think it’s more about hanging out with my Nanna than the actuality of Golden Girls, I mean it could be Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie – we also watch great old daytime movies that they play on those crazy digital channels. ‘Golden Girls’ is great though I think because of all the strong female leads who are older than the usual age bracket for a strong female lead. Not thinking too much about it though, it’s just mindlessly funny and I think my favourite is Blanche, I mean, that hair, that NAME!?
As a fellow Rookie contributor, I wanted to ask you your thoughts on Rookie and of your experience contributing to it; how has contributing to Rookie changed your life and (if at all?) the work you create?
MG: Rookie is a monumentally important website that I am so privileged to be a part of. My experience contributing to it has been nothing but positive. I am now a part of an amazing international community of women who have created a space for young girls to grow not adjusting who they are but embracing it. Rookie has exposed my work to a different, *global* audience than I have in Melbourne, and, created a facet to my art practice that is more commercial and illustrative. Since I began working at Rookie in September of 2011, I have done illustration work for Urban Outfitters and other magazines similar to Rookie. I have also become a member of artist collective ‘The Ardorous’, curated by Petra Collins.
What’s the greatest thing that happened to you in 2012?
MG: I spent New Year’s Eve in my room listening to the radio and writing down all the good things that happened in 2012, and I realized there were a lot. I was most proud of being on page 3 of The Age newspaper, that was fun because I got to be cut out and put on people’s fridges. I had a fantastic time on a trip to America, and met some of the Rookies. It was also great to finish my thesis, graduate from Uni and perform at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, and the National Gallery of Victoria with my friends and *band members* Jon Campbell and Georgie Glanville.
What projects are you currently focused on?
MG: I just finished some illustrations for ‘Nasty Gal’ a US based clothing company. Over January I am designing some fabric and will collaborate with my sister to make clothing out of it. I want to establish an online store. As usual, I will be painting, cutting out, writing, tie dying, thinking, imagining, listening, drawing and of course, blogging at minnagilligan.com, where it all began.
*Photo + art courtesy of Minna.