ILLUMINATED: Paintings in Egg Tempera & Gold Leaf by Gary Milek


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.

Autumn Golden Fields, 2020, egg tempera & gold leaf on board, 14 3/4 x 14 3/4 inches

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.

Autumn Solomon Seal and Raspberry Leaves, 2020, egg tempera & gold leaf on board, 21 x 24 1/2 inches

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.

Mount Ascutney at Blow-Me-Down on the Connecticut River, 2020, egg tempera & gold leaf on board, 36 3/4 x 39 1/4 inches

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.

Thimbleberries and Honey Suckle, 2009, egg tempera on board, 19 1/2 x 20 inches

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.

Hear and Now, 2020, egg tempera & gold leaf on board, 37 3/8 x 38 7/8 inches

Gary Milek

Gary Milek was drawn to nature and to the fine arts at an early age and has devoted his career to combining these passions, finding inspiration for his enchanting paintings among the hills and fields of Windsor County, Vermont, and within the orchards and gardens just outside his door.

Hosta and False Solomon Seal, 2010, egg tempera on board, 21 1/8 x 22 1/8
Left: Flower Spirits - Anemone (detail), 2013, egg tempera, palladium & gold leaf on board, 8 1/8 x 7 1/8 inches; Right: Flowers Spirits - Rudbechia (detail), egg tempera, gold & white leaf on board, 8 1/4 x 7 inches
“Vision is the quest, color is the gift. Love and discipline are the driving forces that allow me to conceptualize and paint my reverence for nature.”

-Gary Milek

Golden Sky over Golden Fields, egg tempera & gold leaf on board, 12 x 26 inches

Born to a farming family in Glastonbury, Connecticut, Milek began his art education as a youth at the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford and was awarded a scholarship to Syracuse University. He also attended Boston’s School of the Museum of Fine Arts, where he earned a grant to further his studies abroad at the Rijks Academy, the school of the famed Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Here Milek acquainted himself with the 15th century practice of preparing gesso panels, using egg tempera as a medium, and gilding with gold leaf, techniques he eventually implemented into his landscapes and botanical compositions.

After spending two years studying and copying the Old Masters, Milek arrived home in the United States and settled in New York. It was the 1960s and the city, as the center of the American art world, was gripped with a fever for abstraction, from which Milek was not immune. For a time he painted with oils in the expressionist style, yet he felt unfulfilled in this endeavor and decided to return to his roots, literally and figuratively – he embraced nature as his muse and began working in egg tempera, and before long relocated to the rural environs of northern New England. While pursuing his unique approach to painting, he taught for seventeen years at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, before retiring to paint full time in 1989.

Crows Caucus, 2019, egg tempera, white gold & silver on board, 31 7/8 x 33 1/8 inches
Left: Geraniums (detail), 2014, egg tempera on board, 33 1/8 x 31 1/2 inches; Top: Elegant Hosta (detail), 2020, egg tempera on board, 21 1/4 x 22 1/4 inches; Bottom: Gold Edge Primroses (detail), 2016, egg tempera & gold leaf on board, 11 7/8 x 16 inches
"When I conceptualize, I celebrate the joy of putting my hands in the earth, feeling its life giving force, the smells of springtime, the lush abundance of summer, the vigor and energy of autumn and the frozen crystal beauty of winter. I love the seasons, each one to be celebrated and honored. I draw, paint, and garden to connect myself and others to the rotations of this beautiful earth."

-Gary Milek

Gary & Sarah Milek

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.

'Poppies and Honey Bees', 2017, egg tempera on board, 10 1/4 x 8 1/4 inches
Poppies, Glorious Flowers, Triptych, 2018, egg tempera on board, 11 1/2 x 39 1/4 inches
Ancient Apple Trees and Stone Wall, 2012, egg tempera on board, 20 x 34 inches
“I draw and paint from nature using nature’s poetry to produce my expression. The magic of our past and future will always flicker and be seen by those who open their eyes and spirit to life’s force.”

-Gary Milek

While many of today’s artists rely on photographs as a reference tool, Milek prefers to work from sketches and takes his drawing materials into the field, whether to the gardens and old apple orchard close at hand or to the pastures and woods bordering Mount Ascutney or to the nearby Connecticut River, with New Hampshire just beyond.

Overgrown Pasture in Late Winter, 2019, egg tempera and white gold on board, 24 1/2 x 35 7/8 inches

This respect for the earth is reflected in Gary’s art, particularly in his application of gold leaf. In the words of Robert McGrath, Professor Emeritus of Art History at Dartmouth:

“His use of gold leaf…is derived from late-medieval and early-Renaissance art, yet Milek employs that spiritualized medium not to symbolize Paradise but, rather, Heaven on Earth. Inverting the traditional hierarchy, he deploys the gold leaf for the foreground and middle distance rather than the sky. The intent is clearly to denote that Vermont is the earthly Paradise.”
Spiritual Passage, 2020, egg tempera and gold leaf on board, 25 3/4 x 24 7/8 inches

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 Milek

Gesso preparation

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

'Peony Japonica', 2012, egg tempera on board 15 3/4 x 16 3/4 inches

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.

Binder preparation

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.

Moving Water, 2005, egg tempera on board, 29 3/4 x 31 inches
"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."

-Gary Milek

Left: Hellebores and Snowdrops (detail), 2008, egg tempera on cement board, 16 3/8 x 17 1/8 inches; Right: Golden Berries of Diphylleia Cymosa (detail), 2019, egg tempera & gold leaf on board, 23 1/8 x 24 inches

Gold Leaf

“Fourteenth and fifteenth century painting used the techniques of tempera and gold leaf to embellish and sanctify the rooms and surroundings, used contemplatively to possess a mood of heavenly thoughts. Low or little lighting candles reflected on the golden pictures, expressing a feeling like breathing – ever changing..."

-Gary Milek

Dragon in the Sky, egg tempera & gold leaf on board, 20 1/2 x 22 1/8 inches
Left: Maiden Hair Fern Celebration (detail), 2019, egg tempera & gold leaf on board, 15 x 15 3/4 inches; Right: Golden Maidenhair (detail), 2020, egg tempera & gold leaf on board, 15 3/8 x 14 1/4 inches

Exhibitions & Praise

Gary Milek has exhibited in solo and group shows, including at such prestigious venues as the National Academy of Design, the Copley Society of Boston, Dartmouth College, the Cornish Colony Museum, the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium, and the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Park. In 2012 he was one of 125 artists selected from the 17th-21st centuries to exhibit in an international art show entitled Gold at the Belvedere Museum in Vienna, Austria, hanging alongside the likes of Gustav Klimt's The Kiss. He has earned several awards over the course of his career, and the respect of fellow artists and collectors; famed American painter George Tooker fell into both categories and said of Milek:

“[He] paints with a quiet and compelling lyricism. The work hangs harmoniously because of the talent, the depth of feeling, and the sincerity of the artist.”
'Petasites', 2016, egg tempera & white gold on board, 29 1/2 x 30 1/4 inches
"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"

Left: Moving Landscape Study (detail), 2019, egg tempera & gold leaf on board, 6 1/4 x 7 3/8 inches; Right: Winter Night, Crescent Moon (detail), egg tempera & gold leaf on board, 6 1/2 x 7 1/8 inches

ILLUMINATED: Paintings in Egg Tempera & Gold Leaf by Gary Milek


238 Newbury Street, Boston, MA, 02116, (617) 536-6176, info@vosegalleries.com, 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.

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Vose Galleries, LLC