Lisa Milroy

Time and Time Again

Text for exhibition at ArtsDepot, London, 2010

Red Vase was painted slowly. This painting took me several weeks to complete. Yet when I look at it, the impact is immediate - the painting hits me all at once. Conversely, Japanese Print, the large painting of a cut-up Japanese print, was painted quickly in a matter of days, but getting the measure of it takes a while. Looking unfolds at a slower, more textured pace.

The element of time is central to my experience of still life painting, in terms of my awareness of the time it takes to make a painting, of the time involved in looking at a painting (whether a painting in progress or a finished painting), and of embodying time materially in paint. Time as the subject of a painting influences the motif itself. Time can be both pictured and embodied as a single moment or extended duration, in units or as layered, mixed up and blended or transparent, and in abstract, figurative or concrete forms.

With a painting like Time Span that took months to finish, I come back to the same painting day after day, making small or major adjustments, then put it away for a few weeks before working on it again. Though the painting remains in a state of change until complete, at some level my connection to it keeps constant, and each adjustment brings into focus and makes material this constant connection. The open scrolls in Time Span together depict a coastal mountain scene based on a beach in my hometown, Vancouver. This motif lets me describe what itʼs like to visit and re-visit a memory or recollection of a place, and imagine the place itself, and in so doing, explore aspects of sameness and difference within each encounter. Various details of a place can look different, or strike me with a different emotional force each time I return. At the same time that this motif lets me tap into a powerful experience in the world, it also allows me to tap into two fundamental experiences of painting - that of returning to a painting during its making, and that of re-visiting a finished painting to either discover something new or engage with whatʼs become intimate and familiar.

I appreciate the term ʻstill lifeʼ for how it mirrors the two grammatical functions of the word ʻpaintingʼ - as a noun, painting signals contemplation and is allied to stillness; as a verb, painting signals action and is situated in life. The two oppositional time modes defined by stillness and movement are also implicated in the term. It can be irresistible to include both modes in the same painting. In Red Vase, the still quality of the vase is highlighted by the bottom strip of primed white canvas which acts as a receptacle to catch drips of paint as I made the painting. In the finished painting, the drips key past action - souvenirs - while the vase remains fixed forever in the present, outside touch. And locked within the concrete drips, thereʼs a story to tell.

One function of stories in my paintings is to picture time, featured as such in Geishas in Motion. This painting shows segments of film strips in which a geisha of my own design stars in a number of activities. Some activities are short events - a sneeze - and others could go on indefinitely - skipping rope. Some include the beginning and end while others are in mid-flow, somewhere in between. Whatever their time quotient or nature, all such activities in this painting - eating sushi, applying nail polish - occupy the same picture plane, which begs the question: do the film strips really show the same person in different moments, or are they of different people in the same time matrix? Has the skipping just begun, or is it about to come to an end? The activities here may all be clearly recognisable, but much is ambiguous, open to endless speculation.

In Constant, I included the projector in the same space as the projection of the island. As I imagined the spin of film reels, even hearing the whir, I could study the island on the screen in silence. Then, imagining the island as filmed, moving through time, Iʼd also perceive within the image the stillness of a painting. Similar to the drips in Red Vase, the projector represents the process by which something is produced. In tandem with the island on the screen, itʼs a way of indexing the role of the hand and eye in painting, of registering the time involved in making and looking.

Lisa Milroy