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Artist of The Week: Darby Milbrath

Meet Darby Milbrath, Canada’s Renaissance woman and Milk’s latest Artist of The Week. Juggling dance, master perfumery, painting, and floral arranging, she’s constantly immersed in the finer things in life. Milbrath’s Toronto-based studio is filled with art supplies, monstera leaves, the scent of frankincense, and exquisite furniture that you’d likely find at an old vintage shop. Read below for our full interview with Milbrath as she speaks on the utilization of her five senses, mysticism, and why she loves tragedy.

Tell us a bit about your background in art. You’re predominantly self-taught, and it seems as though you’re very in tune with your five senses. What was the natural progression of your practice?

I’ve been a dancer all my life. I worked as a professional contemporary dancer and choreographer for four years after graduating from dance school in Winnipeg. As a dancer, my painting is informed by my understanding of the female body in motion, line, harmony, music, lighting and theatrical stage sets. I studied anatomy, which I then applied to my figurative painting.  It seemed like a natural progression for me to approach figurative, still life and landscape painting as Choreography or arrangement of colour, shape, synchronicity, tension and expression. This approach is also applied in my work with floral arranging and perfumery.

What does it take to become a master perfumer?

I was given the title by the master perfumer and aromatherapist at Province Apothecary, a natural perfume and skin care company based in Toronto. I studied for five years as an apprentice to a master perfumer to develop my understanding of the constituents and temperaments of essential oils and absolutes and the alchemy of blending. Perfumery is very musical and intuitive much like painting and dance. I studied and practised as a herbalist before perfumery so already had a knowledge on the medicinal and therapeutic qualities of plants and essences as well as the history, lore and magic surrounding them.

 What sense do you feel the most attuned to while painting? 

I paint with lavender spike oil and Canadian balsam and will sometimes anoint my wooden stretchers with Frankincense oil so my studio is heavily fragrant. I always paint to music and physically warm up my body with dancing before I approach a canvas.

I’m a mystic and painting is a way for me to connect spiritually as a clairvoyant medium. My visions are what I’m most attuned to. I believe the veil between the two realms is very thin while painting.

What is the common thread in all of your work?

The contemporary dance technique I learned of José Limón which is based on the falling and recovering of a human body is a constant in all my work. It explores the adaptability of a body in space, indulging and resisting the polarities of high and low, physically and emotionally, swinging from one extreme to another like a pendulum. Across mediums I play with this dance between harmony and dissonance. It speaks to the complexities of nature and human life. The cyclical, rhythm of ebb and flow, death and rebirth are ongoing themes explored in my paintings which express empathy, sensuality, sorcery, womanhood and ceremony. My paintings are intimate and confessional self-portraits of life as a young woman.

The artistic practices that you’re involved in focus on beauty; whether it’s the beauty of nature and the scent of flowers, or the way the body moves in dance. What do you find beautiful in life? 

I think one of the reasons I’m so drawn to the Limón technique is because I’m an empath. I love watching humans fall and recover. I love tragedy. I love odour. Flaws are hypnotizing. Patterns and chaos in nature are beautiful, especially watching a human interacting within it.

What advice do you have for people that are interested in many types of art, but feel restricted to one?

Any restrictions I impose on myself block the flow of creativity and health. I try to make art like a child, playfully curiously and experimentally.

Do you see your artwork transcending the canvas and moving to objects like furniture or clothing? Any other object?

Already my work has begun moving in this way. I’ve had my paintings printed on textiles for clothing and scarfs and have also made furniture and domestic objects out of other natural materials for my home. My floral still life’s are an extension of my painting and something I always have in my home. I like domestic space.

In the future I could see my painting transcending into the theatre in the form of costume and set design.

Tell us about your most recent show. 

The Flowering Songs at Projét Pangée in Montreal was a solo show of figurative, landscape and still life paintings on linen and burlap. The work was painted in my childhood home and inspired by my memories of youth, the wild coastal landscape and of a new love. In The Flowering Songs, fragments of my imaginative and haunted childhood, my home, my blue bedroom, the rich overgrown gardens and orchards laden with ripe fruit, the courtyard in which I played, my memories of the theatre, the draperies, the scent of frankincense backstage, phantoms and veils, all came together, half submerged, in a watery, Prussian blue lagoon of memories, dreams and visions.

It can be a bit difficult to choose an all-time favorite—who and what inspires you today?

A) Dancer:

 Butoh Dancer Kazuo Ohno, Modern dancer Martha Graham.

B) Film:

Chantal Ackerman, Hiroshi Teshigahara, Ingmar Bergman.

C) Painting:

Odilon Redon.

D) Book:

Vladimir Nabokov’s Speak Memory.

E) Scent:

Oak Moss, Sea, Roses.

What tool do you always have on hand?

Charcoals, a knife.

Images courtesy of Kristie Muller 

Stay tuned to Milk for more emerging artists.

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