Much of Judy Millar’s work is rooted in a childhood hunch. The young Millar intuited an elusive 'something’ concealed behind the facade of the material world - a somewhat precocious permeation of the regular monster in the closet complex, with a universe-sized closet and metaphysics lurking in lieu of a monster. Most kids get over this sort of thing, but the distinct sense of something beyond our senses mystifies and intrigues Millar to this day.
In tandem with this playful metaphysical paranoia, Millar has maintained a longstanding commitment to the process of painting. Her oeuvre looks less like a collection of thoughts and paintings than a montage of thinking and painting in action. Within her practice, constant artistic experimentation and mystic inquisitiveness engage and invigorate each other, together forming the engine of her creative evolution. Perpetually refining her approach to art making in open defiance of inertia, Millar's lifetime of innovations and insights has lifted her practice beyond New Zealand’s borders and into the international sphere.
As one might expect from an artist investigating the ambiguous nature of experience, Millar eschews direct symbolism in favour of allusion and impression. Her paintings, unimpeded by figuration and singular notions of meaning, deploy a kind of psychedelic abstract-expressionism in service of philosophical and aesthetic play. Blank canvases are transformed by the application and erasure of paint into writhing gestural labyrinths of form, torsion and colour. One is left with the singular impression that Piranesi has returned from the dead, imbibed illegal substances, and tried his hand at contemporary abstraction. Digitised brush strokes loop impossibly, penetrating amorphous clouds of luminous colour; here space is treated like paper in the service of origami: flipped and folded, turned inside-out, played with. Our tacit acceptance of the solidity and reality of things is upended and the universe is delivered from our comprehension into mystery. It's quite good fun. Her work, in a delicious contradiction, is ludic to the point of seriousness - navigating portentous philosophical and aesthetic territory in a bewitching state of frolic. One can’t help but detect the notes of her joy in these meditations on painterly process and metaphysics - a joy so often in absentia in the discourse on such topics.
These elements are conspicuous in a practice that operates in an increasingly diverse array of mediums. Whether she's charming children with a pulley-operated, large-scale fold-up-book (replete with projected visuals), crashing immense waves of canvas against the rigid ornamentation of baroque church architecture or erecting monumental sculpture that tumbles from the heavens, Millar invokes the invisible subtext underlying the appearance of reality. Oscillating between her off the grid residence in NZ and her home in the Metropolis of Berlin, she continues her investigations of appearance and reality, poking with her paintbrush, year after year, at the beguiling veil.
Judy Millar is one of New Zealand’s most internationally recognised artists. She has twice represented New Zealand at the Venice Biennale - with a solo exhibition GIRAFFE-BOTTLE-GUN (2009) and at a collateral event TIME, SPACE, EXISTENCE (2011). She has had solo exhibitions at the Auckland Art Gallery (2002) and the IMA, Brisbane (2013) and earned a number of awards and residencies, including the Moet & Chandon Fellowship (1994), the Paramount Award (2002), the McCahon House Residency (2006), and the Creative New Zealand Visual Arts Residency in New York (2009). Her works are held by all major public collections in New Zealand and in several international collections including the Kunstmuseum St Gallen and Tichy Foundation in Prague.