Little Red Tulip, 2011 © Wardell Milan. Courtesy David Nolan Gallery, New York
Large Tulip (blue/yellow), 2009 © Wardell Milan. Courtesy David Nolan Gallery, New York. Private Collection.
Lovely Tulip No. 4, 2013 © Wardell Milan. Courtesy David Nolan Gallery, New York
The Flower No. 1, 2015 © Wardell Milan. Courtesy David Nolan Gallery, New York. Private Collection.
You could easily lose yourself in Wardell Milan’s pretty blooms, equal parts jubilance and beautiful decay. Or in his vibrant and delightfully subversive tableaus made the old-fashioned way — done not with cut-and-paste clicks but with an X-ACTO knife and then shot on a table, diorama style. Or his simple charcoal sketches of boxers in action. Or, as we did, all of the above.
Here, get to know this break-out Tennessee-born, New York-based artist, who both provokes and allures with one stroke of the brush or a snap of the camera.
Around the age of eight, nine, my parents recognized my artistic interest. Being the encouraging and supportive parents that they are, my mother enrolled me in after-school and weekend art classes. I often recall my mother taking me to Saturday morning art classes. My mother and father both continue to be huge champions of my work and of my artistic ambitions.
My signature techniques…
With my works on paper, specifically the graphite/charcoal drawings: The manner in which I render shapes and forms illustrates my visceral and distinctive approach to the drawn line and to the human figure. Hand-constructed tabletop dioramas serve as my photographic subject matter. These dream-like interiors and landscapes serve as settings for the fanciful, the erotic, historical personas and moments as well as narratives of my own biography that collapse into each other, forming an alternative time and space.
And how I came to them…
There isn’t one single event or a-ha moment that has allowed for me to stylistically arrive to this point with my work. Consistently questioning my creative practice and challenging my artistic capabilities has allowed the work to substantially mature.
The common thread throughout my works…
The themes of beauty, self-identity, sexuality and the unconscious.
Favorite work I’ve done…
Currently my favorite piece of work is the photographed titled Early Spring. The Charming Evening. Normally, I’m never fully satisfied with my completed works. With this particular piece, I succeeded in creating an image that exceeds my targeted expectation for the work.
The Tulip paintings stem from my interest in the 17th Century Dutch phenomenon of tulipomania, considered the world’s first economic bubble, and considering this history and the ideas related to speculation, wealth and beauty. The image of the tulip and the creation of my tulip paintings gave me a platform to examine the complicated notions of aspiration and beauty, revealing the potential for danger and decay within the ineffably exquisite.
The artists who changed the way I see the world…
Michael Jackson, Fellini, James Baldwin, Nina Simone.
Favorite room in a museum…
Because I am always hungry, a museum’s restaurant.
My tools of the trade…
A glass of bourbon, neat. And the music of Daft Punk.
I combat the artist equivalent of writer’s block with…
Two glasses of bourbon neat. And the music of Daft Punk.
A good work of art should always…
Inspire and challenge its audience. And leave the viewer pregnant with the desire of wanting to see again. And again. And again.