'Minna Gilligan interview' – Everguide / by Brodie Lancaster

Minna Gilligan may be a VCA graduate, Rookie magazine’s artist of choice, occasional illustrator for Urban Outfitters, member of Melbourne band Pamela and a total sweetie, but that doesn’t stop her from the occasional bout of self-doubt. The humble Melbourne artist published a list of internal worries on her blog last week after installing her third and latest solo exhibition Feel Flows at Daine Singer Gallery. Thoughts like, 'What if everyone hates it?' And, 'What if someone cool comes and they think it’s dumb?' (AKA thoughts ALL CREATIVE PEOPLE HAVE AT ALL TIMES. Anyone telling you differently is a dirty liar) are sure to be pushed to the back corners of her mind following the launch of the exhibition on Saturday, when her latest pieces – psychedelic ink collages on vintage found fabrics, influenced largely by The Beach Boys — were unveiled to the wine-swilling public. We were lucky enough to catch a few minutes with Minna, and we attempted to get our heads around all that she does so thrillingly and effortlessly.

Brodie Lancaster: Tell me about your journey to being an artist.
Minna Gilligan: Art became my 'thing' after I stumbled across Andy Warhol on the internet when I was about 15. What ensued was a full-blown teenage obsession with him and the whole idea of The Factory, Edie Sedgwick and the 'art star' kind of thing. I never really admit that because I think it's a bit embarrassing or something, but I think it happened to a lot of us girls on the internet at that time. 

In like the mid-2000s Edie made this resurgence and Factory Girl came out and stuff. She was like Cobra Snake cool but with retro vibes that appealed to me even back then. It's not like I was even out partying living this 'art star' life though, I mean, I was in my room daydreaming about it, drawing pictures of Andy when he was a kid and practicing applying fake lashes. 

My work has a lot to do with escapism and I think I've always had that bone in my body that floats away a bit.

BL: Lots of artists struggle to find their niche in art school - Claire from Six Feet Under comes to mind, as she had trouble with someone “teaching art”. What were your years at VCA like?
MG: My years at VCA were pretty much perfect. I came straight from an all girls Catholic high school and VCA was a major culture shock in a sense that it's like, ‘Woah, these people like the same stuff as I do, this is huge.’ It took me a while to settle in, at first I think I was just really excited and wore like really crazy outfits and glitter and stuff which looking back was a real 'first year' thing to do - breaking out of my shackles! 

I just loved VCA, but after my Honours year last year I think I was ready to get out into the world. It's going okay so far! Jon Campbell (artist and member of Pamela) and I just wrote a song called 'Art School'. I wrote the lyrics about my time at VCA. We're going to perform it for the first time at my opening at Daine Singer!

BL: Your collages have a lot of textural elements and seem so tangible. Do you work digitally or with physical cut-and-pasting? 
MG: I work mostly with physical cut-and-pasting. Occasionally Photoshop helps out a little but usually all the collage work I make also exists as a physical collage IRL, probably buried under a pile of junk on my desk. All my images are from books I collect. I would say I have 200 - 300 books and magazines from the '50s, '60s, '70s and '80s. My mum always makes me watch that show Hoarders and points out to me the traits I also possess that are similar to the people on there.

BL: You take lots of inspiration from the '60s and '70s. What is it about the aesthetics of these decades that appeals to you?
MG: I often like to only half-jokingly think I lived a past life in the '60s and '70s, which would explain why I feel such an inexplicable, almost psychic affinity with this period of time. Aside from the obvious 'escapism' thing I mentioned before, I think these time periods appeal to me aesthetically because of their unabashed use of colour and also pattern. There didn't seem to be a lot of fear associated with colour, and I just love wild psychedelic stuff because of this. Also of course how the '60s and '70s were such a period of intense social change and stuff. And the music. Oh, the music.

BL: I noticed on your blog and the piece you made for my zine (plus on your Instagram!) you're drawing a lot of kind of layered, spun out psychedelic flower shapes recently. Do you do a lot of doodles that work themselves into your work?
MG: Yeah, I have been doing lots of those weird linear flower things lately! I go through phases I guess. That spiral flower shape is actually a background of one of my new paintings in my show. I got the design printed on fabric, and then I stretched that and painted on it. It's pretty wild! It will probably seep into other works, I guess, and yeah a lot of my doodles do seem to become sort of profound symbols for me that reoccur.

BL: Where do you work? What are the things you need around you to be super productive?
MG: I work either in my studio in Collingwood or at home. I enjoy working at home actually because I can literally work on my bed, which is so unprofessional but really fun. I like to have music playing when I'm painting or drawing so those vibes can also enter into the work. I don't like to feel sad or angry when I make work because then I always feel like I put something in it I don't want to. I like to watch out for that.

BL: What was the biggest professional moment for you so far in your career?
MG: Gosh, I don't know. I like to think everything I do is a significant professional moment that allows me to move on to another, bigger and better professional moment, you know? I like the idea of things snowballing, of rolling uphill. I'm really proud to have my first solo show at a commercial gallery coming up. I've worked really hard towards that and I'm really excited. I really enjoyed performing at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney with Pamela, and working for Rookie has been huge for me.

BL: We’ll get back to Rookie in a sec, but for now - tell me about Pamela! I missed seeing you play at White Night by about 10 minutes and was eternally bummed.
MG: (Laughs) No need to be eternally bummed! White Night was really fun though, we got to project my works up in the background of us singing and it felt really '60s and cool. Pamela is a three-piece band that comprises artists Jon Campbell, Georgina Glanville and me. Georgie and I do tambourine and voice and Jon does guitar and voice. We mostly sing Jon Campbell originals and '60s folky songs. I have so much fun singing, not that I'm a professional or anything. I've always felt an affinity with music and I'm so glad I now get to do it in a low pressure, casual environment with my friends!

BL: What does it mean for you to be able to express yourself creatively through different outlets, music and art?
MG: It means a great deal to me, as music is vital to my making process. A lot of my works are named after songs or lyrics that are poignant to me and seem to be communicating a message or idea at the time. I love the idea of time travel via music and old radio stations. I listen exclusively to Magic 1278 because it literally is the '60s when you listen to it. So cool.

BL: If you could create the album art for any band, what band and album would it be?
MG: Well before my obsession with Andy and Edie, I had an obsession with Madonna. Well actually I still have an obsession with Madonna because I think she is really cool. I would like to have done maybe her Ray of Light cover, but it was a good cover anyway, I guess. Would love to do a cover for Leonard Cohen, or Joni Mitchell - nowadays it would be cool to do a cover for Grimes, or Lana Del Rey. I really like them.

BL: When I bumped into you recently at Moroccan Soup Bar, I had been having a conversation with my friend about how women-centric that place is. It's all about sisters doing it for themselves, and getting shit done, which is what I imagine Rookie is like behind the scenes! What's it like working with the editorial team, pairing your work to words? 
MG: Yep, I agree. The woman who runs that place is pretty amazing! She should probably join Rookie. It would be great if she could do like a recipe section or something (laughs). The editorial team at Rookie is obviously incredible, I always think about how lucky I am to be a part of a community of such creative, intelligent, driven and beautiful women. As corny as it sounds, it is endlessly inspiring. The editorial team at Rookie is especially amazing because I never feel as though my creative vision or voice has been compromised at all. My voice has always remained my voice. Although I’m following some creative guidelines, I have always felt 'myself', and that I have free reign over projects and series. There is a great amount of trust in our relationship, which I am so thankful for.

BL: Tell me what we can expect from your exhibition? What were you watching/reading/listening to when you created these pieces? What were you thinking and feeling?
MG: For this show I have made a series of new paintings. I used found fabrics as the bases for some - bed-sheets, curtains and tablecloths. I love this process as it allows me to work back into an already emotionally and physically loaded surface. When making the work for Feel Flows I was thinking, as I usually do, about a million things at once, but more specifically about the infamous idea of endless summer, as at the time we seemed to be experiencing one. 

The Beach Boys were really important when I was beginning this series as I had a weird moment listening to 'Wouldn't it be Nice' during our 'endless summer'. I felt like I was listening to it again for the first time, and it seemed to be so poignant and perfect and I may have gotten a tear in my eye. That's why I looked to them for the title of the show - which in a way I treat as my mantra while making the work. ‘Feel Flows’ is a Beach Boys song that seemed perfectly bittersweet with longing. Its echoes have remained with me since and I hope to further reverb them with this show. 

Posted on Everguide, June 10, 2013.