It’s Saturday in mid August, and 'Be My Baby' by the Ronettes is blasting out of the dusty pink entrance of Brandi Milne’s “Once Upon a Quiet Kingdom” exhibition at the Corey Helford Gallery in downtown Los Angeles. A step inside the showroom easily transports one into Milne’s candy confection fantasy world of powdered sugar snowmen, rainbow kittens, and smiling Humpty Dumpty friends. The quirky fashioned attendees and pink striped walls are a perfect match to the whimsical yet gloomy dimension created by the brush in Milne’s talented hand.
Using acrylic paint, her lucid dream inspired art comes to life with powerful pinks, purples, and blues, all with a melancholic undertone of more shadowy emotions and darker themes. To convey multiple meanings and layers of juxtaposed emotions in her work is impressive to say the least, especially given that Ms. Milne is self-taught. As a youngster, Milne lived near the "Happiest Place on Earth," so it's no surprise her art is synonymous with Disney-esque, cartoon themed paintings and a sugary, animated style.
Growing up, Milne had difficulty discovering her own voice and perfected the art of hiding when she felt she couldn't find the right words. But as the years went on, Milne found the most powerful way to express herself was through her art, where her vulnerability and internal fears are on full display. Her complex stories are told through spectacular illusions that are fueled with personal struggles, heartbreak, death, and love - ultimately giving her audience a way of finding beauty and affection in the cruel and the ugly.
Each of her one-of-a-kind compositions are impeccably detailed and nothing short of enchanted. "Once Upon a Quiet Kingdom" will be open to the public through September 16th, 2017. Rogue had the opportunity to sit down with Milne and learn about her work, what inspires her, and the risks she's taken to get where she is now.
How did you 1st begin your journey as an artist? Has it been something you always knew you wanted to pursue?
Yes, art was something that I always felt was special to me – even as a little kid. I lived for coloring in coloring books and drawing the second I got home from school. Art (in that way) was mine. I dreamed of being an artist as an adult, but didn’t have much hope that I would be able to show work – I had no awareness of any contemporary art world except for the art I saw in the galleries in Orange County beach cities, which wasn’t my type of art. So I just did art for myself, in my room, until 2004 when a friend of mine turned me onto a couple of weekend events that were showing contemporary art in Los Angeles (Cannibal Flower) and I submitted a few pieces. The response to my work was so positive, I was invited to show at a few other art events and a few more, until I was invited to show at smaller galleries (at the time) like the Hive and Thinkspace and eventually I was showing at Gallery 1988 and Copro Gallery. In 2005 I met Jan Corey Helford who was in the process of building her first fine art gallery in Culver City which was the Corey Helford Gallery. She offered me a solo show before the gallery was even finished! I’ve been showing my work professionally now for 13 years, and I love it now more than ever.
You’re known for incredibly unusual, lucid, dream-like art – what inspires this unique world you create on your canvases?
The world I paint is what’s in my head – a mash up of images and imaginings that I collected along the way growing up and as an adult. TV shows from the late 1960’s and 70’s, Sid and Marty Krofft, cartoons like Bugs Bunny and Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, Pinnochio, vintage Halloween and Christmas décor, children’s books, music and lyrics that have sparked images in my head. I was a very harsh judge of “art” as a kid – even my coloring books, I remember liking images with bold lines where the characters were cute and “well drawn,” and anything outside of that I would be pissed about!! I’d scribble them out and break my crayons I was so upset!! Haha!! So all of that is what inspired what I do today, and so much more. Life inspires what I do!!
When did you realize your voice/ identity in your art? Is it continually evolving?
Continually evolving, continually revealing itself for sure!! It’s like an onion, so many layers and you think you’ve got it until yet another layer reveals something deeper and truer to your core than the last one. As I get older, I know myself better and better – things like insecurity and comparing yourself to others make less and less sense (which is amazing!), it leaves just the truth there to work with which absolutely enriches the work, enriches my voice and identity in the work and in life.
Did you ever consider following a career path outside of the arts?
I would love to study interior design and photography and textile design. If I didn’t dedicate my life to my art, I would choose one (or all?) of these interests!
Is there a piece that you are most proud of in this gallery? What’s the story behind it?
I’m super proud of each piece in this body of work, but one piece in particular titled “My Sweet” took a whole lot of trust in myself. It’s one of the larger paintings in this show, measuring 45” x 35” and the subject is a large egg. I had something totally different sketched out for this large panel, but when I stood in front of it to begin painting, I really just wanted to paint a huge humpty dumpty. So I did. I told myself that this piece wasn’t going into the show, that I was painting it for me and so I painted it that way. Free from any judgment, free from pressure, free from “the public eye.” I love that piece so much, it means so much personally, and it ended up lending so much to the body of work that I proudly showed it with the others!!
Do you have a routine to your work? Can you tell us a bit about your process of creating a piece start to finish and how you know when the piece is complete?
I begin with a few thumbnail sketches in my sketch book – to figure out composition and the subject. I keep that early stage loose, not too detailed in order to keep the final details fresh and inspiring when it comes time to paint them on the final panel. When I’m satisfied there, I transfer it to the wood and start painting!! My under paintings are very expressive, this is one of the most enjoyable parts of the process for me, it’s where I experiment with color and atmosphere/mood. Then finally the tightening and detail work bring everything together until it looks as close to (or way better than!) what I had in mind initially.
Have your methods changed since you began painting to what it is currently?
Absolutely!! Because I’m not classically trained as a painter, my process has been trial and error. Over the years I’ve learned what works for me, and what doesn’t - but I’m still learning and will be until I can’t make art anymore.
Your work is clearly an emotional experience - Is there anything you wish viewers of your work could understand about your persona or your personal story?
My story and personal emotions go into the work while I’m creating it. When I present it to the world, my story and MY emotions are not what I necessarily want the audience to understand. I want the audience to feel from my work, I want them to have their own emotional response – their own personal story. I want them to be able to relate to my work ultimately, however that happens to strike them.
Are there any risks you’ve taken for your art? If so, what were they?
Yes!! Putting yourself out there in your art, that’s a risk. Being bold and letting yourself be vulnerable to and in your work, and then inviting people to look at it in a public way, that’s a big risk. Whether you’re a painter or musician or a dancer, or anything expressive – you open yourself up in public and that’s pretty flippin risky!
What have you learned about yourself through your art and how has that affected the work you produce?
I learn so much about myself from the art - and I’ve learned that the more I know myself, the more I know what I want to express in my art, and how honest I want to be expressing it. It’s a cycle of listening to yourself and trusting yourself.
On a day to day basis, is there something that triggers the creativity? What is it?
Ha! Deadlines can trigger creativity!! Haha! Music for sure. And I guess a need to express creatively, tapping into that on a daily basis, with the structure of a deadline.
What are some of the challenges you’ve experienced along the way, not only in building a career as an artist but also in releasing your work to the world?
I think the biggest, or at least constant challenge is keeping yourself inspired and motivated as an artist. Or human for that matter! Inspiration is tricky, you’ve gotta search for it forever. It mostly doesn’t just come easily, but I guess maybe that’s the nature of it.
How are you feeling now that your show is open to the public? Are you excited?
I’m feeling AMAZING!! This new body of work has been my love and my bane for over 2 long years. Opening it to the public is always nerve racking, you’re never quite sure how people will receive it, you know? This show has been received so overwhelmingly positive, it’s been incredible!! I’m excited that people are so excited about it!!
What’s next on the horizon for you?
Right now I’m looking forward to writing (and illustrating) a storybook!! And always more painting!! More layers of the onion, more honesty and truth to paint from!!
Do you have any advice for other people who want to pursue a professional career in the challenging and competitive world of art?
I would say to anyone wanting to pursue art professionally – you have to LOVE what you’re doing. Art is not an easy path. If it’s not worth dedicating your life to, if there’s no absolute NEED to create, the art world might not be for you.
Written by Betsybelle Camacho
Interview by Katie McGehee
Photography by Jessica Louis