Interview by Madeleine Dore
Photography by Pru Aja
Minna Gilligan is entrancing. An eclectic wardrobe of retro dresses resembling pieces of art, perfectly painted rouge lips, and a shambolic studio adorned with glitter curtains, the Melbourne artist is not afraid to stand boldly beside her playful, nostalgia-dipped work — and the art world is taking note.
It has been a busy year, with the National Gallery of Australia acquiring three of her vibrant art pieces and winning the commission to design the creative space for the Melbourne Art Fair.
In the artist statement for her most recent solo exhibition Long Time No See at Daine Singer, Minna pondered, ‘I seem to be growing more concerned with my perception of time. While it can be dull, thumping and slow moving, equally I lament as it rapidly slips away…’
It is easy to see how the hours would fly by for the ambitious 24-year-old. Minna has exhibited her work in prominent shows and fairs such as Melbourne Now and Spring 1883; maintains an illustration column for New York-based online magazine ROOKIE; regularly shares her everyday delights and discoveries on her personal blog; and is currently in the process of writing her first book for Hardie Grant – all while upholding a part-time job with Art Guide Australia.
When asked how she manages to squeeze it all in, Minna let out an infectious laugh that for a moment fooled me into thinking we were both at a school fete with fairy floss in our hand, ‘I don’t know if I do sometimes!’
Minna is poised and attentive, but even with her legs elegantly crossed, couldn’t help but bop enthusiastically in her seat as she described rifling through racks at Savers and disappearing into a psychedelic utopian paradise when cutting out material for her collage work.
From her lipstick shade (a lip-stain by Revlon as a base topped with Russian Red by M·A·C), to her imaginative works, Minna brightens the world around her, teaching us that a childlike sense of wonder can keep us curious and close to the things that matter most.
PART I: DAILY ROUTINE
For a while, at five-thirty in the morning I would just automatically awake. It was ridiculous, so now I probably get out of bed at around six-thirty. Everyone in my family gets up early—My dad gets up at four in the morning, he is completely insane!
Getting ready really depends on where I’m going. If I’m heading to work, I can be ready in half an hour, but if I have to wash my hair it will obviously take a little longer, and the same goes if I know I’m going out after work.
I don’t really decide what I’m going to wear the night before or anything, I just wake up and wear what I feel like. I have everything kind of laying around so I can kind of just extract things that look clean and presentable! [Laughs]
In the morning I might put something on Instagram as I figure it’s a good time as most people in the world are awake. So I might post some artwork or an outfit. It’s funny, it really is quite intensely curated, but I like the ability to create this little sort of gallery and I enjoy looking at what other people create with theirs.
I don’t drink coffee—which people think is weird—so I have to have cereal in the morning … as long as I've had cereal I am ready for the day! I’m obsessed with mixing Weet-Bix with some Just Right. It’s a really good combination.
I live out near Hurstbridge and I don’t drive so it takes a good hour to get to my studio. I really enjoy catching the train and find it really relaxing. I feel that when I’m at home I can really retreat, so the train is often the time where I can get ready to be in the world. I listen to music, or might watch something on iView on my iPad.
Whether I’m heading to the studio or to work at Art Guide Australia, I arrive around ten which is quite relaxed and not too early, which is nice.
On days where I am going to my studio, it is usually to do something specific, usually illustration because I find it easier with a desk and it’s cleaner than my space at home. I also feel I can achieve deadlines in a studio environment.
But often I do a bit of work at home, usually working on paintings and exhibition stuff because I have a lot of space there. If I have an art-making day, I usually have to decided whether I should go to the studio or work from home.
I try and have set routines for each day of the week, but it’s difficult as I may have meetings or other commitments. So it’s a bit all over the place, but there is logic in my head. Roughly, a typical week would look like this:
I like to have Mondays off and usually do things with my mum. I feel like I’m forcing my mum into having a Mother-Daughter day. She is probably like, “Oh my god get away from me,” but I’m like, “Let’s hang out!” [Laughs] We might go to an op-shop or have lunch with my Nanna or do something like that.
I do artwork mostly on Tuesdays and the weekend. It’s also a good day for hanging out with friends as well as it’s not a work-work day, so I might organise a lunch with a friend.
In the afternoon I might have a meeting with my publisher for my book, or be in the studio. My priorities change depending on my number one focus at the time. I have finished all my exhibitions for the year, so my book is number one at the moment, and I spend time working on the computer and putting together imagery.
Wednesday – Friday:
I started working at Art Guide Australia when I was studying honours in 2012, and then in 2013 I was offered three days a week. That was perfect because when I finished uni I was just floating around for a bit thinking, “What am I doing !?”
I think working at Art Guide gives me that routine that I don’t really have elsewhere. I really thrive on routine and not having it does make me feel floaty and weird, like I’m not so much in control. Knowing I have these three days is really grounding and I like working my art practice around that.
I’m not really made for sitting in front of the computer all day as I get a bit fidgety and go a bit mad, but I enjoy the job and it’s interesting. I do all the social media, upload articles online, source images and help with editorial meetings and put in ideas. I’m given a lot of different tasks, which keeps me stimulated. It really helps me to be “on it”—I know pretty much everything going on at any gallery! [Laughs]
When I will finish up at work or the studio I might go into the city to do some errands. Well, maybe not errands, more like window shopping. You know, important business [Laughs]. I really like going to Myer or David Jones, even if I’m not buying something … I just really enjoy it for some reason. It’s just being there, by yourself, riffle through things, thinking about fabrics. It allows me to just step away for a bit and think about clothes which has always been a love and a hobby of mine.
Otherwise I might meet up with a friend, get something to eat and have drinks or go to an opening. I go to art exhibtions quite a bit, although I haven’t been for a while as I’ve just been so busy. But I try to make sure to go to friends’ openings because that’s really important. It’s a real give and take and you want to show support.
I usually just get the train home, not too late but sometimes late … I’ll be PG. [Laughs] If there are no openings or anything, I will probably go home after work and do some creative work.
I live with my family and we all have different tastes … My sister is a vegetarian and I don’t eat a lot of meat, so if I’m home I usually just cook rice, steam some pumpkin and broccoli and mix it all together with some feta. Just really basic. I’m a pretty hopeless cook but I do make a quiche!
I sometimes find myself going through weeks and weeks where I am going to work and then coming home and working more and that is a bit overwhelming. So it is important for me to sometimes come home and just be like, “Hey you’ve finished work, just do something brainless like watch TV.”
I’ll usually put on something really trashy on 7mate like Hardcore Pawn or American Pickers. I like those shows as you get to see the landscape and strange houses—I find it interesting!
By ten I will usually be in bed on the computer, which is really bad as it makes you too stimulated before you go to sleep. But I’m usually on eBay looking at clothes I want to buy. Most of my online shopping will happen when I’m half asleep and I’ll be like, “Oh god why did I do that!” I never regret buying anything as I want so many things, but it’s just the money I regret spending. I can save money, but I can also be fairly frivolous with clothes and I can justify it in any way possible.
Sometimes I will say, “Well, dressing is kind of part of my art practice so technically it is “Art” when I am buying clothes,” which is so ridiculous! [Laughs] I need to stop spending money on clothes, but it’s not going to happen. It’s my one vice … I don’t drink coffee and I don’t smoke cigarettes so it’s fine!
PART II: WEEKEND ROUTINE
I usually work at home on a Saturday. It has been such nice weather recently and I’ve loved having all the windows open. I’m on the computer, but I feel at least a little connected to nature.
My family and I will usually go out one night a week on a Saturday night if I am home. It’s good, my whole family works in a creative field so it’s the time I can get advice from them and ask them questions. Otheriwse I might get drinks with friends in which case I start getting ready in the afternoon! [Laughs]
I usually spend Sundays finding things. There is a Savers just near my house in Greensborough and it’s the best, I’ve been going there since I was fifteen and I am completely obsessed. I find this to be my relaxation as well, riffling through the racks and totally focusing on just finding trinkets, books, fabric and materials. I either go by myself or with my Mum and sister, and return home and cut out imagery I’ve found.
If I have the time I might write a blog post. It just depends because sometimes I just don’t feel like it, so I just won't do it.
I always think I would love to have my blog forever and ever until I get really old … I really like the idea of being able to follow someone’s trajectory though their writing from a really young age.
Sunday nights my family all go to my Nanna’s house and have dinner there. She is getting a bit old now so we usually get take-away, or I might cook a quiche. [Laughs] Everyone reading this is probably like, “Here it is again, that bloody quiche!”
PART III: BEHIND THE SCENES
On how to become an artist …
You have to work exceptionally hard. There is no use sort of lolling around in your bed wishing you were an artist. I probably did that a lot when I was younger! [Laughs]
You really have to want it or you will find the work really hard— working on weekends and after work. I also think it’s important be productive and don’t think about how your work is being received, or making work that looks like other work.
It was hard because I felt like my work was different and I struggled a bit with learning to accept that. But eventually the more confidence you get in yourself I think the easier it is.
On putting yourself as an artist into your work …
I really put my individual self on an equal plane as my work. It’s in the way I write, the way I dress, and I think it makes it easier to grasp ... for people to be able to see the person behind the work.
I think that it is something people see as devaluing my work, but I don’t see it as that. I just think it makes it stronger or more interesting because I’m not afraid to stand beside it.
The argument that the artist should be a shadow to the work isn’t necessary wrong, but for me I have a lot to say and express and I feel as though it’s important for me to be there as well.
On the attraction to bygone eras …
When I did honours I wanted to investigate why I have this attraction to the 60s and 70s … I never came to one conclusion, but there was a number of things that contributed to the idea. Mostly it is the music that has this sense of nostalgia because my Mum would play that when I was growing up. There is also the general attraction to the aesthetic, it is so dynamic, bold and fearless and I’ve always loved it. I think it's inexplicable in a way, the colour and everything, there is so much joy in it.
On art as a means to escape …
There is an element of escapism in being able to collect all these things and get lost in fantasies.
I collect a lot of found photographs and in those I find these misty memories that seem warm and comforting and they seem nostalgic for me, even though I never lived it. You kind of begin to make up stories and in that create these hybrid fantasies.
On what others connect to in her artwork ...
I think the colour and the childlike naivity inherent in my work is what makes it accessible and open to a range of viewers. I feel like anyone can view it online, and they might not be familiar with the art industry, but still get something from it. As can a curator coming to the physical exhibiton.
I am very conscious in that I really want anyone to be able get something out of my work. That’s made possible due to the general sense of nostalgia—it feels familiar to people because I am taking all these elements and repurposing them and putting them together in a different way. It is still familiar even though it’s new.
On blurring the boundaries between commercial and fine art …
I also work in a commercial sphere as well as fine art sphere and sometimes they cross over. I don’t like the stigma around commercial art … I find that really counterproductive. I want to make work so people can see it.
On the secret delight of being bad at emails ...
Sometimes I’ll be looking at emails and feeling stressed and think, “Why am I doing this? They can wait till Monday!” Why does everything need to be so immediate? Admittedly, I can be bad at emails. It’s funny, I read them, but then I put off replying and then think “Agh, I should do that!” and it becomes more of a big thing the more you put it off. I need to get on top of that a bit more ... I’m still learning.
On pursing big, crazy goals…
Think really big, think globally! I think it’s good to have crazy goals that may never come into fruition, but at least you are trying.
In highschool I was told by my teachers “Don’t apply for the VCA, they never take young people.”
I couldn’t understand why you would not encourage somebody to do something they wanted to do.
Luckily, I had such a great family who thought it was ridiculous and that I should not only apply, but put it first on my list.
If you don’t get it, you can try again. Nothing is the be all and end all. There is always a way to do it, even if it’s not the traditional path.
On slowing down and shutting off …
Ultimately, getting lost in these make-believe stories is a means of trying to slow things down. With the internet, our lives have become so fast and so overwhelming at times, my practice is kind of my response to that maybe.
I’ve only just recently realised how important that is. Sometimes I just turn my phone on aeroplane mode and just not communicate for a little while. I find being at home also allows me to switch off sometimes and be physically separate as well as internet separate.
I think the internet is fantastic and it really helped me to discover what I was interested in and other artists. ROOKIE mag for instance was a massive thing for me and still is, but I think it is also overwhelming and anxiety inducing at times. I do feel I’ve got to check myself and make sure I’m not getting too lost in it all because it is dangerous to make it your main world.
On living in the family home …
Ultimately I’m saving to buy my own place which is pretty wild, but my friend just bought an apartment in the city and she is only a year older than me so I figure if she can do it I can do it. My Dad is always like “it’s the ultimate freedom,” so yeah, that is essentially why I’m still at home I suppose. I’m really into looking at real estate, I always think about that! But in the meantime I am thinking of decorating my new studio at Gertrude Contemporary and that can be my mini apartment. I want to get lots of plants, and more glitter curtains!
“Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something.
That's ridiculous—you can do whatever you want!
It’s all about you being motivated to do it,
and nothing about whether people think you can.”
— Minna Gilligan, Artist
In the mornings I usually do a quick trawl of Twitter and read a couple of news articles. Admittedly, I'm not as avid a reader as I was when I was a child.
I'm reading Lena Dunham's Not That Kind of Girl at the moment though... and usually end up reading the dated information in the books I collage far more than actually cutting out from them!
If I go out to eat it will usually be around Smith Street, Collingwood.
Bistro K which is contemporary Korean cuisine
Panama Dining Room is good for a drink and some snacks
Dikstein's Corner Bar for take-away pizza with my girlfriends
The Everleigh is my favourite bar in Melbourne
... I also enjoy the occasional Kit Kat!
I have incredibly unsophisticated taste in films... the last thing I watched was Gremlins for the five thousandth tim.
Stereotypically, I love Wes Anderson and, Woody Allen (although that is becoming harder and harder for me to stand by given the allegations of molestation by Dylan Farrow - separating the art and the artist perhaps is not possible for me in this case!)
Anything with Sissy Spacek and/or Shelley Duvall I love: Badlands, Coal Miner's Daughter, and 3 Women by Robert Altman are stand outs for me.
Brick and mortar:
Savers in Greensborough
Pet Shop Girls
David Jones and Myer as previously discussed. Not usually to even buy anything just to sort of wander and pretend I'm on some glamorous holiday!
Facebook clothes selling group