Lights, a painting by Lisa Milroy, is December's Featured Work
Like a display of brightly coloured sweets or toys arranged in ordered rows from top to bottom, the neon tubes and light bulbs pictured in Lisa Milroy's painting take on a festive air. There's an array of lights – long neon tubes, oval and globe shaped bulbs, miniature stringed fairy lights and twirled candle bulbs – spaced at irregular intervals and occasionally grouped in multiple numbers. Despite the domestic ubiquity and functionalism of the subject matter, Milroy's methodical composition brings out the differences between each bulb – from the transparency or opacity of the glass, to the screw or pin form of a fitting.
Lights is one of Milroy's 'objects' paintings that she produced during the mid to late 1980s. Other examples include multiples of shoes, door handles and china plates, all of which are arrangements influenced by grids and lists. Milroy described these as her 'fast' paintings – each one usually painted within a day, a feat that she set herself in order to focus her complete attention on a mental composition of objects that she held fixed in her imagination. As a result, the rapid style of her brushwork in Lights indicates the speed at which she worked. The challenge was to capture (or as Milroy says, 'to download') an exact image in her mind on to the canvas. This individual, almost photographic, visual approach to painting allowed her to explore the many different facets and associations that are inherent in an object. By pursuing different formations of the same subject, Milroy aimed to capture or distil its defining identity. In a 2005 interview with curator, Lewis Biggs, Milroy commented:
I was also interested in the role of repetition generally ... The repetition of a word can empty it of literal meaning in favour of pure physical sound – bringing to mind notions of sensuality and greed... Repetition, like speed, became another means for me to regulate feeling: shutting it out or letting it in.
Born in Vancouver, Canada, Lisa Milroy moved to London in the late 1970s where she studied at St Martin's School of Art and later at Goldsmith's College. In 1989 she won first prize at the prestigious John Moores Painting Exhibition, Liverpool; and in the following year, her work (including Lights) featured in the major survey touring exhibition British Art Show 3. She has exhibited her work widely, with solo shows in London, Rome, Paris, San Francisco, New York and Tokyo. A major retrospective of Milroy's work was held at Tate Gallery Liverpool in 2001, and more recently, Hands On, a drawing commission for the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford was shown in 2014.
Milroy has worked extensively around the world including artist residencies in Kyoto, Tokyo, Taipei and Beijing. Commissioned projects include 'Artist's Tales' Royal Mail Millennium Stamps (1999) and the album sleeve design for Solid Bronze – The Greatest Hits by pop band, The Beautiful South (2001). Milroy was elected a Royal Academician in 2006. Milroy is Head of Graduate Painting at Slade School of Art, UCL, a post she has held since 2009. She is an Advisor for the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten, Amsterdam; and has been a jury member for the John Moores Painting Prize, China (2014) and for the Art Fund Prize for Museums and Collections (2012).