Introduction by Carey Vose
Since 2001, when Vose Galleries decided to represent living artists again after a forty-year hiatus, it has astounded me how serendipitous my family’s journey has been finding artists with whom to partner on this endeavor. It has rarely been a straightforward journey, and my family’s mission has been to find artists utilizing traditional mediums and implementing them in new and unexpected ways. Gary Milek’s work epitomizes this idea by merging the age-old methods of egg tempera and gold leaf in his renditions of the gardens and mountain views found just outside his door.
My first introduction to Gary’s work came through a mutual friend and artist, Charles Shurcliff, who presented me with a postcard announcing their two-person show, ‘Converging Viewpoints.’ The exhibition included forty works depicting the upper Connecticut River Valley, where Charlie summers and where Gary lives year-round with his wife Sarah. I was struck by the beautiful and unusual combination of egg tempera and gold leaf in Gary's work, and intrigued to have a closer look.
Gary invited us up to visit his studio and home in Windsor, Vermont, and I was immediately taken by his ability to imbue his paintings with a rich, ethereal quality through his chosen mediums. The straightforward and almost primitive style of his work boils down the essence of his intended subject matter in a very unexpected and elemental way.
Gary considers himself a Regionalist. He draws inspiration almost exclusively from the natural environs surrounding his home and studio, and affiliates himself mystically with the Cornish Colony, established in 1885 just across the Connecticut River in Cornish, New Hampshire, by the revered sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848 - 1907). The nearly one hundred painters, sculptors, illustrators, and writers who associated with the colony over the next forty years were a diverse bunch with a shared belief in the classical tradition of idyllic beauty and loosely emulated the art of the Dutch 'Golden Age' of the 17th century.
The creativity expressed by the colony’s residents in paint and words also found its way into the architecture and adjacent grounds. Homes and studios were built to maximize views of Mount Ascutney and the surrounding hills and pastures, with the same attention given to the design and planting of elaborate floral gardens. Gary and Sarah mirrored this approach when building their home and studio on a scenic Vermont hilltop across the Connecticut River, where for over fifty years he has painted intimate portraits of their orchards and pollinator-friendly plants and the grand, undulating views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
We are pleased to offer over thirty paintings for sale in what is our first exhibition of Gary Milek's work, and I look forward to hearing your impressions of his exceptional and unique imagery.
From 1974-2020, the artist and his wife Sarah (pictured above), a talented horticulturalist, owned and operated Cider Hill Gardens (pictured behind) in Windsor, Vermont, growing pollinator-friendly plants and flowers using sustainable methods.
Gary Milek's Process
"Painting is two dimensional, a flat surface. The magic of expressing three dimension allusions has possessed the artist throughout time. Picture planes, vanishing points of perspective and receding colors are the tools I use to create my landscapes.”
Gary paints on masonite, beginning with cherry wood or oak cribbing for the back of the panel to keep it rigid and protect it from warping. He believes that the preparation of this surface is of greatest importance, and has spent decades developing the method he finds best. In all, Milek applies eight coats of hot gesso, a thick mixture he concocts from whiting and titanium added to hot rabbit skin glue. When the final coat is sufficiently dry, he sands the panel to an ivory smooth finish. The panel must cure for a few days before it is ready to apply the egg tempera.
Egg tempera is an technique dating back to the ancient Greek and Egyptian eras, with egg binder and pigments found on sarcophagi. Artists continued the tradition, with egg tempera emerging as the medium of choice in frescoes and illuminated manuscripts during the twelfth century in Europe. The medium reached its prime during the Italian Renaissance in which some of the most iconic egg tempera paintings were made, such as The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci, and The Birth of Venus by Botticelli.
To prepare egg tempera, Gary separates egg yolk and white. He then holds the yolk in his hand and removes the membrane. He adds water, a natural emulsion, to the egg yolk to bring it to a paintable consistency, and then mixes in the colored powdered pigments. Egg tempera paint is applied in very thin, often translucent layers of pure color that dry very rapidly. Many layers are required to build up an image, working up into the highlights and down into the shadows, allowing the painter to create effects that can not be achieved with any other medium. The ultimate effect is rich and luminous.
"Through color, contrast (light & dark) and the use of line and form, water has fascinated me all my life. The two dimensional plane and water are direct contradictions. The movement of water intrigues my imagination and artistic desire to depict the feeling of a liquid moving in space."
"Abstracting the forest into a suggestive linear scheme, Milek asserts the primacy of formal invention in painting over the accurate delineation of place. In homage to such pioneering modernists as Mondrian and Klee as well as such photographers as Weston, White and Porter, Milek subjects intimately observed natural forms to careful formal analysis, thereby subsuming them into his own personal creative universe. In this process the artist sunders the distinctions between the observer and the observed aspects of nature while abstracting its forms in terms of line, color, and highly subjective meaning and experience."
-Robert L. McGrath, "The Groves Were God's First Temples"
ILLUMINATED: Paintings in Egg Tempera & Gold Leaf by Gary Milek
238 Newbury Street, Boston, MA, 02116, (617) 536-6176, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.vosegalleries.com
Digital Catalog Design: Catharine Holmes
Writing: Carey Vose & Courtney Kopplin
Photography: Gabe Chevalier
© 2020 Vose Galleries, LLC. Rights reserved. The right to copy, photograph or reproduce the works of art identified herein is reserved by Gary Milek.