By Gareth Stevens

It would take more than a pandemic to stifle or deter the ongoing creativity of artists and galleries. The blackShed Gallery is continuing to promote the work of the artists it collaborates with and the artists themselves are adapting and evolving to make the best productive use of time in lockdown when opportunities to both sell and show work are limited. 

Next on the roster for blackShed’s Virtual Spaces exhibition series is Hastings’ own Chris Milton. Discussing his Art with him can be intense at the best of times, but when I met him (at distance) in his studio near the town centre, it was the first face-to-face conversation, barring ‘cash or card?’ exchanges, I had had since the whole self isolation began and so was more heightened than it normally would have been. 

Milton last exhibited at the gallery in the Autumn of 2018 –and a magnificent show it was too. Rather than show only recent works, this time around he is taking the opportunity to review his entire creative journey thus far and to use the show to draw a line under previous work, to reboot and thus be free to head off in fresh directions.

What you get when you talk with this man is a pure sense that he is living an examined life, that he is assiduously striving for profound authenticity and that he continuously paints in a mode of joyous inner turmoil. Despite his resting face being a big smile, he strongly makes the point that what he does is tough and that sometimes he wishes painting would fuck off and leave him alone. He is both an aesthete and an ascetic.

His upcoming show spans his days when he was a celebrated and award-winning illustrator and extends right up to recent times. He was once Course Leader of Art Foundation Studies at Middlesex University and at that time was increasingly drawn to the freedom of expression enjoyed by his Fine Art colleagues. His work developed from being about illustrating someone else’s ideas to being a means by which to document his inner landscape – a terrain of subconscious archetypes, taboos and dreams. Rather than his work being illustrative representations of ideas and being about using visual language in an almost literary way, the process of making the art now is, in and of itself, what is being represented. Towards the end of our meeting he shares a quote from a Zen Buddhist writer which distills what he says lies behind his artistic process. 

“…Satori, which comes on the spur of the moment, when the mind has been cleared of all the beclouding thoughts and attuned to the silent music that accompanies every manifestation of life.” 

Milton is not particularly interested in the figurative method of representation, he merely uses it to reach a poetry of his own and our shared inner life.

Milton’s masterly draughts-manship is a constant in all his work. He can in one quick line express the form of a thigh or an arm so authoritatively… so decisively, and more importantly, with such poetry. At one period in his working life he was drawn to fetish clubs in London and the consequent drawings and paintings perfectly elevate the taboo subject matter and the attendant objectification of women, to an almost sublime level. This balancing of oppositional dualities is something Milton does extraordinarily well and he succeeds here largely due to his inimitable ability to draw. In conversation I am struck by the idea that he is striving for conciliation between the lewd and the divine as a way of achieving redemption. It is impossible not to feel humbled by this artist’s struggle for sincerity.

Chris Milton’s ‘Virtual Spaces’ Exhibition will run from Monday 15th June for two weeks and can be viewed across a number of sites and social media platforms. Please follow these links:

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