Brandon Blane McMillan
Brandon Blane McMillan was born and raised in South Georgia and grew up on a tobacco farm. Dividing his time between the joys and rigors of fatherhood, farming, and his family’s restaurant, he works from a small studio creating mixed media representations that seamlessly meld the divide between hyperrealism and abstraction. His bold imagery is a manifestation of a life spent amongst windy spaces, falling barns, and pastureland where he captures the slow ruination of nostalgia and heritage. His work is not so much about the image itself, as it is an illuminant into the rhythmic memories of the landscape. His work often displays an animalistic ferocity yet maintains subtle renderings of stories heard long ago, sublimating nostalgia for those lost places, producing work that defies the finite while attaining “depth by layering.” His process and his “history of marks” is much about what’s beneath and unseen. It becomes as momentous as the final translation received by the viewer.
Hidden beneath the figures, shapes, and stray marks that make up Brandon Blane McMillan’s paintings are private words. They might be directly relevant to the piece or hold no clear relation to it. “It may be nothing more than options of titles for the painting or maybe even the next series of steps that I plan to take while producing the work,” he explains. “It might even be something funny one of my daughters said that I want to remember to tell my wife.” Obscured by the paint he thoughtfully layers on top of them, these pentimenti leave the artist’s personal musings somewhere inside the artwork. Most often he’s the only one to have seen them, but for McMillan, the sight of any given piece always triggers the memory of its hidden words. For the rest of us, their existence testifies to the intimate nature of the work McMillan produces. He labors over his paintings, filling each one with heart and significance.
McMillan, the pride of Nashville, Georgia, grew up on a farm. Working in the fields and creating a painting are such different activities that it’s hard to see how doing one could benefit the other, but for McMillan, that has proven the case. Farming instilled in him an indefatigable work ethic that drives his art today. Throughout his childhood, McMillan’s summer days meant planting and harvesting, sun up to sun down. Now, as a professional painter, he is in the studio seven days a week. You reap what you sow, and he’s sowing with great care and attention.
McMillan’s lengthy creative process involves outdated technologies (consciously chosen) and fence-hopping (always with permission). He travels around to farms near his home in Valdosta, snapping photos of camera-friendly cattle. Back in the studio, he will pore over several hundred photos from a site, selecting one for a painting. He enlarges the image to meet the desired dimensions of the work, prints it in sections on a run-of-the-mill inkjet, and, using a transfer process, reassembles the image on a canvas. These steps leave him with a vague outline of forms and colors. McMillan paints in the background first and then develops the subject to a level of hyperrealism. Final passes see him pushing and pulling the paint, splattering and dripping, softening edges and adding energy to the picture. McMillan speaks of a “history of marks” in his work that results from this rigorous sequential process.
Like his work ethic, McMillan’s imagery finds its roots in farm life: Cows, horses, donkeys, and the odd ostrich are his heroic protagonists. Lifted from their native environment and introduced to scenes of painterly abstraction, they mirror the artist’s own similar transformation across the arc of his life—the gradual merging of agricultural and artistic worlds that has produced this unusual farmer-painter. His animals are formal subjects, notable for their contours, patterns, and textures, and they are realistic elements in tension with their abstract surroundings.
The balance between realism and abstraction has become central to McMillan’s thinking about art. He studied painting at Valdosta State University under Harry Paul Ally, who, like Nathan Oliveira, another of McMillan’s influences, renders figures in imagined and painterly environments. To those examples, McMillan adds an appreciation for pure abstraction, the way paint can communicate as paint, looking to artists like Kandinsky, Clyfford Still, and Gerhard Richter. The whole mix surfaces in McMillan’s abstract grounds, where the pitch-black or piercing blue hues are noticeably unnatural, beautifully man-made, and where geometric shapes are made imperfect by purposeful smudges and drips. The grounds are spotted like the animals transposed onto them, and they almost seem to breathe in the same way.
Even more than influencing his aesthetic, McMillan’s mentor Ally reinforced for him the total sense of commitment it takes to achieve success as an artist. Ally preached the mantra “Live your art.” That meant never resting mentally from one’s work and rarely resting physically from it. “It’s an everyday thing, not a hobby,” says McMillan. “You eat, sleep, and drink Art. It is the first thing you think of when you wake up and the last thing you think of when you lay your head down to go to sleep. I feel like I am at that point now.”
Bachelor of Fine Arts(BFA), in Art, Valdosta State University, Valdosta, Georgia 2009
2014 Pryor Fine Art, Atlanta, Georgia
2011 Pryor Fine Art, Atlanta, Georgia
2011 Red Door Records, Valdosta, Georgia
2010 Downtown Center, Nashville, Georgia (solo show)
2010 Benny’s Gallery, Valdosta, Georgia
2010 Hildegard’s Valdosta, Georgia (solo show)
2009 “Overload”, Valdosta State University, Valdosta, Georgia
2009 “Overload”, Annette Howell Turner Center for the Arts, Valdosta, Georgia
2009 “Emerging Southern Artists”, Colquitt County Arts Center, Moultrie, Georgia
2009 Group Competition, Valdosta State University, Valdosta, Georgia
Valdosta State University permanent collection, Valdosta, GA
Franklin Collection, Valdosta, GA (private collection)
Dorsey Collection, Nashville, GA (private collection)