Liste Art Fair Basel: Emma McMillan | Liste Art Fair Basel

Jun 10 - 16, 2024 

Emma McMillan finds paths to abstraction through everyday experiences with the forgotten, sampling psychology, architecture, and the natural world. Her large-scale, gem-hued oil paintings and drawings are complex reflections on the mutation of meaning, across time and space. Opposing impulses of fast gestures and slow-burning image quality govern her practice. Recent canvasses examine bugs, as a commentary on the state of human and animal affairs.


In this new body of work, Emma McMillan searches for the pulsing vitality of life through nonhuman figurative paintings. At the dawn of the 21st century, the pop entomologist E.O. Wilson used the scientific class of insects as a lens through which to frame this new era’s ecological precarity. McMillan carries on Wilson's critical appraisal of human affairs and turns her magnifying glass to the insect. By noticing the natural human need to affiliate with other forms of life, McMillan chooses inborn instinct over intellect in the production of pictures. The artist stares down humanity's biological fate in tandem with her own. The product of romantic abjection, these paintings describe the cycling of life and hint at an eternal return. The title “Flesh” reflects the artist's lusty ambitions and ironizes the arthropod's matter. Insects are made of a hard, brittle substance called chitin instead of skin. In these works, McMillan is speaking of a matter of the flesh that transcends species. 


Careful planning is required for instinctual results. Each image starts with a dead specimen found in the wild. This specimen is then collected and photographed with an amateur microscope; the images are then collaged together in an increasingly haphazard interpretation of scientific photography’s focus stacking. An initial drawing is generated from these collages and from there, a small, fully colored scale study is made. All this accumulated data is used to create a large oil painting. Since the time of the Old Masters, iron oxide, the mineral responsible for the color of blood, has been used to simulate the sensuality of blood flowing beneath flesh. Earthen colors are then paired with harsh pastels, giving serious matters a playful tinge. In synthesis, the images read as abstractions of animal anatomy. Wings flutter in a room, peristaltic guts seize, and molted bodies glimmer outgrown.


Emma McMillan was born 1989, in Atlanta, Georgia. She lives and works in New York City. In 2012, she completed her studies at Cooper Union, New York. Recent solo exhibitions include at PHILIPPZOLLINGER (Zurich, 2024); Sebastian Gladstone (Los Angeles, 2024); Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation (New York, 2021); Atlanta Contemporary Art Center (2019); EĢdouard Montassut (Paris, 2019); Lomex (New York, 2018) and Alyssa Davis Gallery (New York, 2017). In addition, McMillan has also participated in numerous group shows, such as at Moskowitz Bayse (Los Angeles, 2023); Shoot the Lobster (New York, 2023); Triest (Brooklyn, 2022); In Lieu Gallery (Los Angeles, 2022) and Peter Freeman (New York, 2019).