Darby Milbrath: The Flowering Songs

Darby Milbrath
The Flowering Songs
Projet Pangée
March 1 – April 14, 2018

This current exhibition at Projet Pangée is the perfect remedy for any end-of-winter blues, as its content is a romantic expression of the wonders and warmth of wild, blooming gardens and orchards, bright summer skies and special moments nature has to offer. The Flowering Songs is a collection of memories, imaginings, and glimpses into the spirit of a young woman’s youth: Darby Milbrath. Immediately recognizable is her expressionist style of painting. While not full realism, the viewer understands the manner in which the colours and forms are distorted to evoke the image’s mood. In the first painting of the show, the two figures in the foreground are reminiscent of Henri Matisse’s dancers, and the rest of the image could practically be an homage to van Gogh. So, if you are interested in viewing or collecting a contemporary Canadian version of this style of painting, The Flowering Songs comes highly recommended.

Upon entering the gallery, consider Songs Of Experience a map and legend of the different settings of Milbrath’s featured work. The wild forest, cozy garden and distant interior introduced here could very well be the location from which the artist paints these glimpses of her past and imagination throughout the rest of the exhibit. In a few of the paintings, the figures are seen from a distance, like those mentioned above, and are gestural, interacting with the spaces and exploring the vast gardens. However, this mood is not reciprocated in the figures shown up-close in Love and the Blue Butterfly, Washing The Bedding, Wedding Moon, and Claire, Sick in Bed. Rather, their expressions are melancholic, disheartened, and even ill. These individuals are also not whole, unlike their smaller counterparts. Only faces and incomplete portions of bodies are shown, often blending in with their surroundings, they pale in comparison. With their colour being so washed-out and muted, perhaps they are to be understood as incomplete and fading memories. The contrast between these representations and the charming, romantic environments they occupy is intense and even unsettling at times.

Nevertheless, the overall effect of this juxtaposition in addition to Milbrath’s use of strong complementary colours is successful in forming a unified piece. The blues paired with oranges and the reds with greens result in a harmonious image. Vibrant red-oranges and deep blues and greens animate scenes of wild gardens, flowers, and fruit. Even the bright moon and sun are part of the nature upon which they shine with equal luminescence (see Red Moon in the Orchard).

More than anything, Milbrath’s current work is a celebration of nature’s beauty; a subject that clearly has had a great influence on her as an artist. The compositions, which are generally triangular, have flowing floral patterns and smoky, textured backgrounds that are married from top to bottom, un-phased by background, middle ground or foreground planes. Her rendition of hanging fruit and flowers, especially in Fruits Of Paradise, gives a sense of exuberant elegance like that of eighteenth-century Rococo and Chinoiserie interior décor. Their stems, leaves and flower petals evoke exquisite chandeliers and fine jewelry, demonstrating nature’s beauty reflected in art. In addition to the paintings hung on the walls, fresh apples overflow from a large planter in the center of the room and a vase of aromatic seasonal blooms rests on a stand, both providing a romantic perfume to the space and a physical presence of what the viewer sees in the images.

The Flowering Songs, open to the public until April 14, 2018, is a lovely escape into an artist’s secret garden and its design will surely transport the viewer into a realm of wonder and imagination.

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