For self-taught pop-surrealist Brandi Milne, art has been a vital form of self-expression since childhood. Growing up in Anaheim, she was engulfed in a world of classic cartoons, toys and candy, images that have inspired decades of work.
From Oct. 29 to Dec. 3, Milne’s newest body of work, “Everything I Ever Was,” will fill the walls of the Corey Helford Gallery’s main gallery space in what is its largest October exhibition, showcasing a collection of over 40 paintings and illustrations.
“My dream behind this work … it was really out of necessity,” Milne explained. “I needed to trust myself. I’ve been working on this work for three years, so that was right before pandemic. I started and then the pandemic hit, and I needed art again in my life. … The dream behind this work was more of a trusting of my subconscious. I didn’t want to curate ideas to aim at this show and work on those. I wanted to listen to myself and give myself some space to just express what my subconscious wanted to say.”
Inspired by her own life experiences, Milne’s work is a visual interpretation of the world around her. In “Everything I Ever Was,” her acrylic paintings depict surreal visions of a world in which love, loss and heartbreak dance beneath a candy-coated surface. It’s an exploration of personal stories and emotions that blends Milne’s two favorite holidays: Halloween and Christmas.
“I get the Christmas stuff from my past,” Milne explained. “That was one of the things in my childhood that was very happy, Halloween and Christmastime. My mom did it up at home with all the decorations and music. … My work can’t escape from that time, that joy. Even Halloween time, like spooky stuff, just ignited my imagination.”
The largest piece in the show, and its namesake, depicts a bulbous snowman surrounded by a cast of whimsical, dreamlike characters such as gingerbread men and colorful insects in a snow-laden forest of Christmas decorations, candy and toys.
“It’s a big story,” Milne described. “It’s me screaming about life and love and light. I don’t come from a particularly light place in my history and my past, so this was my big need to create a space and an image and a place for me to reach for that light and that love and then, in turn, because I’m making something visual, give that out to the world.”
“Visually, I want vibrant. I want lots of things to tickle my eyeballs. … I wanted to be as vibrant as I could, kind of in contrast to the darkness I was feeling and lots of people were feeling during pandemic and the world gone crazy. … Though the meanings behind (the work itself) are mostly, I would say … very serious and honest, I wanted that to contrast in the visuals, in the color, the vibrancy, the palate and even the characters.
“There’s a lot of innocence in my work and in the characters that I choose, and that’s just deliberately in contrast to the heaviness of life, the darkness and the struggle. Life is hard and it’s scary and it hurts, man. So that is my aim in my work.”
To further combat this darkness, Milne hopes that visitors to the gallery can enjoy a sense of peace, safety and connection with the work and its emotions.
“It’s a safe place for me, and I want people that are viewing my work or spending time with it to feel safe and to feel accepted,” Milne said. “A lot of my work is about self-acceptance, a journey of self-acceptance and finding out who I am. And I want that for other people, too.”
Three years in the making, “Everything I Ever Was” marks Milne’s fifth solo show at CHG after her “Once Upon a Quiet Kingdom” show in 2017.
“I’m excited, and I’m nervous because I haven’t really been out in like three years, too,” Milne said with a laugh. “What an opportunity to fill a space as beautiful as Corey Helford and fill the walls with love and light and true, honest authenticity and self-expression and self-acceptance. I don’t take that lightly. And every show that I do, every piece that I put out, I don’t take lightly. … This is a great opportunity, and I’m very grateful for it.”
In regard to young artists learning their craft and beginning on their own journey of self-discovery, Milne’s advice is to “accept yourself, know yourself well, listen to yourself … be very familiar with the light inside of you and keep that alive, keep that going, shining brighter than even the people around you want.
“(Art) has been maybe the biggest, I call it a, friend in my life. Starting from a very young age, we found each other. And I don’t know that I would’ve survived some of the hardest times in my life without art and the way that I’m able to express myself, because as a little kid I didn’t necessarily have a lot of words or a lot of space to speak my truths and how I was feeling.
“Art has given me a voice. It’s given me a safe place to find myself and expand myself and express exactly how I feel and what I think and what I want and what I see in my imagination. … It has given me life.”