Melbourne based Minna Gilligan works across painting, drawing and collage. She creates romantic playgrounds of colour that nostalgically reference 60’s and 70’s psychedelia. She is represented by Daine Singer Gallery (Melbourne); has written three books and is a regular illustrator for Tavi Gevinson’s ROOKIE Magazine.
I went to a catholic girl’s high school from 2003-2008 in the northeastern suburbs of Melbourne. It wasn’t the most productive of environments for me. Honestly the strongest memory I have from school is staring inanely at the clock a-la Bart Simpson and drawing in the margins of my books. My school was near a creek and amongst the gumtrees; it flooded when I was in Year 9, an exciting event as we got to go home early.
I feel super negative saying this, but I didn’t have a high school art teacher that inspired me immensely. I was ambitious in art class and I think my unwavering enthusiasm frustrated my teachers. The art program in my school was really lacking and we only had one art class. I wanted to do studio art and my school didn’t offer it so I did it outside of school at the Centre for Adult Education on Degraves Street in the city. It was pretty exciting catching the train an hour into the CBD to go to this class until I realised the teacher there didn’t care much about the class either. I thought it would be a great place to make cool friends until I didn’t make any, and soon it became that the best thing about that class was going to get lunch breaks in the city.
I was lucky, though, because institutionally I wasn’t offered the best art education, but I happened to have a creative ex-art teacher Aunt who made it her mission to inspire and tutor me outside of school.
My Aunt loved Matisse – she still does! I remember that the most. She took me to openings of Del Kathryn Barton’s at Karen Woodbury Gallery, to visit the single Warhol self-portrait at the NGV and take my photograph in front of it. We went to see Gilbert and George speak at the NGV, too, and she introduced me to the work of Arlene Texta Queen and also took me to VCA openings which I found utterly overwhelming.
My art class at the catholic girl’s school was filled with those who adored anyone who could draw or paint photo-realistically. My art class at the CAE was filled with no one because everyone skipped class to smoke cigarettes. I made a series of small Warhol inspired portraits of women who inspired me – women in my family and then I also included Joni Mitchell and I don’t remember who else – I thought it was great but it’s objectively awful in retrospect, stencils and silhouettes – the school bought it though, I think maybe because I talked it up so much. I think I got $300, which at the time was the most money I’d ever seen. It’s actually still a lot of money.
I had a career counsellor (not an art teacher) tell me not to apply to VCA because I wouldn’t get in. I also had a literature teacher tell me I wouldn’t get in either. It was beyond discouraging and I spent a lot of time thinking about what happened to these people to feel the need to dishearten an optimistic 17 year old from trying something. I don’t think I even discussed where I was going to apply for university with my art teachers. In this circumstance, again, I am so lucky as I had a supportive family who said that ‘of course’ I should apply, and I did, and I got in, and we went out for chips and a drink at the local pub when I found out on a Wednesday night, after I stopped crying from happiness.
We did the NGV trips, which were always pretty good. That’s the only gallery we went to in relation to school trips. I don’t remember a lot from them. I think we mainly went to look at the Top Arts exhibitions, which, at the time, were something I looked on jealously.
I was obsessed with Andy Warhol. A little trite now, I’ll admit, but I was completely and utterly into Warhol’s world. Edie Sedgwick was my favourite person, I romanticised the entire scene, which then turned into me romanticising the entire generation of the 60s and 70s, which is something I still look at through rose tinted glasses.
We studied the usual Bill Henson, Tracey Moffatt, Frida Kahlo… we got really into studying Vermeer’s Arnolfini Portrait intensely, I found the symbolism interesting as well as easy to regurgitate in essays. I’ll always have a place for Kahlo, definitely. We studied ‘What the Water Gave Me’ which I still love. We never explored indigenous art which I think was a huge oversight, and really disappointing to not have the opportunity to learn about at a young age.
I did not stay in touch with any of my art teachers. I saw one of them in Savers once but that’s about all I know in regards to what they’re up to. My high school science teacher has been super supportive and actually bought one of my works recently, though. I’ve actually found support in more unusual places than traditional ones.
I was encouraged immensely by my parents and family. So much so that they are almost entirely responsible for me career to date. I have an amazing family who never miss an opening of mine and never miss an opportunity to give me constructive feedback ;). They are my art teachers.
Minna Gilligan 2018