Public Parking
A journal for storytelling, arguments, and discovery through tangential conversations.
Parking Lot: Darby Milbrath
Thursday, October 25, 2018 | Liza Isakov


A quick scan through Darby Milbrath’s collection of work over the last however many years highlights a palpable impression of undulating motion. Her oil-marked surfaces seem to take the eyes in swim-like flows and swells. They are shapeshifting, fragmented and often appear to billow off into indefinite terrains. They carry the sensibilities of Frankenthaler's colour flood play, the looseness of British artist Sue Williams and even at times Cecily Brown's fierceness. 

Milbrath mines from an inward narrative but manages to transcend mere linearity. The Toronto artist willfully quotes from painting’s past of expressive gesturing and in the process frees up new possibilities in the otherwise latent space of painting. Her personal vision of painting surpasses classical notions of the genre. Each canvas opens up the chosen subject from an original context instead of building newer richer realities with a light hand through colour, line and lately jutting out into sculpture. We are presented with domestic vignettes that are every bit as languid as they are of other worlds. In this episode of our Parking Lot series, we chat with Milbrath about her aspirations of theater, her background in dance, and the unending magic in everyday domesticism--among other talking points.


i like domestic space and homemaking and could see my flower arranging transcending into sculptural or domestic objects such as furniture, baskets and kitchen tools out of natural materials and painted textiles


I saw your work a few months ago at Project Pangee. I enjoyed seeing it in person and gained a new appreciation for the subtle details that a picture online can't do justice. It felt like I was wandering through a dream world, extremely expressive and emotional. The artworks from Project Pangee “The Flowering Songs” were all inspired by your childhood and your memories from your childhood home. At first sight, I felt like I was looking at a fantasy world filled with images of fairy-like lands.  Why did you choose to tackle these memories? 

I began the paintings for the Flowering Songs while staying in my childhood home in Victoria last Fall. My paintings are diaristic and express my experiences and surroundings in a personal, emotional and imaginative way. I have an attachment to my childhood; my home, the lush gardens and coastal landscape wherein I was raised, and my mysticism that began there as a young girl. Fantasy and nature which was such a big part of my childhood with my siblings, playing games surrounded by the dramatic west coast landscape, is an ongoing theme explored in my paintings. 

All your work has this manner of movement in it, and it’s due to your background as a dancer I imagine. Aside from dancing I've read you I've had a few different paths in your life, dancer, perfumer, photographer, illustrator and more. What are your feelings about painting? Do you think you’ll expand your artistic touch to more fields? What does the future hold for you? What areas would you also like to explore?

As a painter with a background in movement, I do see my art transcending mediums. I orchestrate and arrange colour, shape, line, harmony, and scent through drawing and painting, dance and choreography, flower arranging and perfumery. Painting started for me because dancing professionally was too stressful for my body. Painting seemed like a natural almost child-like medium to return to when the pressures of dancing professionally were too much. I think for my practice it’s important to move through all the mediums as they compliment and augment one another so significantly. I paint with essences of Lavender, Frankincense and Canadian balsam oils, I dance before I approach a canvas and I fill my studio with cut flowers and still life’s for inspiration. 

I like domestic space and homemaking and could see my flower arranging transcending into sculptural or domestic objects such as furniture, baskets and kitchen tools out of natural materials and painted textiles. In the future, I could also see myself returning to the theatre in the form of costume and set design or dance and choreography. 


Washing The Bedding, 2018


Love and the Blue Butterfly, 2018


You did a very interesting residency in the dunes of Cape Cod, isolated but so immersed in a flow state. How was that experience? Would you do that again? Would you recommend it to another artist? What was something you learned about yourself from this experience? 

The experience was a revealing and challenging one that I would recommend to only certain people. I lived almost in solitaire confinement for three weeks in a primitive shack in the dunes with no running water or electricity. Being from the west coast I am inspired by an overwhelming natural landscape and that feeling of being humbled as a human within it. Being situated in miles of undulating dunes alone was pretty awe-inspiring. I would definitely do it again. The isolation was psychologically challenging for me and in this state, I found myself not wanting to paint but instead dance, which I did in the dunes for hours while filming it with a solar-powered camera. I learned to laugh at myself and reaffirmed that my art is life long work. 


Image: The Flowering Songs Projet Pangée


Have you ever received great advice from a friend or mentor, what was this advice?  Do you have any advice or inspiration you'd like to bestow upon a young artist?  

The best advice I’ve received is to simply have the willingness to show up every day, to do the work, to do your best, and to have the faith to follow any intuitive impulse that will arise inevitably from this state of willingness.

What does the future hold for you? Any new exhibitions, group shows, or articles you're a part of? 

I’m currently working on a new series of oil paintings on canvas for Art Toronto Fair and Material Art Fair in Mexico City (February) both with Galerie Projét Pangée which I’m excited about.



Frontis image: Claire, Sick in Bed, 2018