Through frames rich in colour and intent, the Hamilton-based painter uses the 1984 film as his muse in an exhibition at Lyceum Gallery
Stewart Milne, a firefighter by trade, began painting three years ago. A seemingly late start for an artist who hails from a family of painters, including his mother, grandmother and aunt. Yet for Milne, the timing couldn’t have been better. Hit by a car while riding his bike in 2019, Milne decided to pick up a canvas during his recovery. “I certainly didn’t think it was anything special, maybe something that I could do for fun,” he says. Instead, his pastime inspired a new outlet for the creative (who also has a background in music, ceramics and poetry). Over the course of the pandemic, Milne further honed his craft, developing his point of view as an artist and landing his first solo exhibition shortly thereafter. Now, in his latest body of work titled Paris, Texas, he’s entered a new chapter of his artistic feat, inspired by “the obvious and accidental language of our experiences.”
Outside of your family, are there any artists who inspire you to create?
I once took a drawing class with a very gifted Toronto-based artist named Laura Dawe. In that very short period of time, she allowed me to hone my authority as a painter as opposed to trying to create what I might think people want to see. I was able to learn a lot from her class and I’m really thankful to have met her. There’s a B.C.-based illustrator named Pete Ryan, who I grew up around and definitely consider an inspiring creative figure. He does a lot of editorial work with publications like Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. He’s probably the first person I knew who made a living in art. Then there’s the Hamilton scene and local artists like Paul Allard and Kyle Stewart. They’re both two artists with their own style and honour their individuality.
What’s the Hamilton art scene like?
Social media played a big part in how I got my name out there as an artist and local members of the Hamilton art scene were the first to reach out and invite me to events and gallery showings. It’s been great and I feel like I’m part of a very supportive community of artists here.
Having shown in Toronto and New York, how does Hamilton differentiate itself?
It feels like a city where you can try anything. Whether it’s music, painting, poetry, or whatever, people will probably come by and check it out without making too big a fuss about it. There’s no trend or competitive pressure in the air, the art scene here thrives on an easygoing attitude.
Tell me about your new exhibit; what was the driving force being Paris, Texas?
I was a big fan of the Paris, Texas soundtrack by Ry Cooder before I had actually seen the film. Having loved that project so much, when the film was screening at a local theatre here in Hamilton, I decided to go see it. I was completely blown away. It left a very lasting impression on me and, visually, started percolating a lot of creative ideas. I even pulled my phone out at one point in the movie to take a picture of a scene I knew I’d love to paint. The result is an artwork titled “Direct Information”. I had already been thinking about creating a body of work, artworks that were connected to one another. So, once I started painting pieces inspired by scenes and frames throughout the film, it naturally snowballed into a collection of ten paintings.
What mediums do you explore outside of painting in this show?
Beyond the paintings, there’s also a ceramic piece, a sculpture made of wood and a mannequin body, as well as an installation with an old T.V. on a homemade plinth and a hidden VCR behind a flap plays the movie.
This is your second time showing at Lyceum Gallery; what made you return to the space?
I reached out once I began Paris, Texas because my first experience with the gallery was so positive. Holly Venable, one of the gallery co-owners, is so gracious and easy to work with. The space is also great, it feels very open and doesn’t distract from the work.
Has your intent as an artist evolved since you began painting?
Painting still feels very playful to me. When I paint, it’s because I want to. I think because I don’t always know what a piece will end up looking like when I begin it, I tend to go with the flow which feels like a game of sorts. As I progress, the painting eventually reveals itself to me. Ultimately, my intent is simply to find these beautiful things. These beautiful things that surprise me.
Is painting a way for you to express a type of creativity that doesn’t fit into your work as a firefighter?
Not exactly. I think it’s easy to think of firefighting as a uniform and mechanical job. But it’s filled with creative thinking and critical thinking. While they are two very different outlets for me to be creative, I do think they translate well with one another, especially when it comes to trusting your intuition. At work, it’s about, you know, the team that you work with, the public and the decisions you make to solve outside problems. And then, in my artwork, I get to think creatively and solve the inside problems, and make sense of myself. STEWARTMILNE.CA.