Michael Milano

Where are you from and where do you reside?
I am from Chicago, but currently live and work in Seattle.
Are there any aspects of your process that are left to chance?
No, there is not a lot left to chance; my process is rather considered, and each composition takes a lot of time to work out. The exact placement of forms is integral to a piece, and the difference of a centimeter can change the entire feel of a work.
Do you sketch or draft your compositions ahead of time?
Yes, I often sketch out ideas first to work out the proportion and scale of the shapes and their relationship to each other. Then, I make paper cut-outs of the forms that I am working with, and push them around, making minor adjustments until the compositions are just right. I also draw inspiration from my surroundings, photographing interesting compositions which I reduce to abstractions in drawings and collages.
Why did you choose to work with denim?
Denim is arguably one of the most ubiquitous textiles and has a unique relationship to a specific type of dye: indigo. Unlike other dyes, indigo does not fully penetrate its dyed fibers - it merely coats them - so when denim is worn or distressed, the indigo simply rubs off and reveals the underlying cotton threads.

I really became interested in denim and this phenomenon after observing the particular wear pattern evidenced in jeans - I think it was first the wallet shape in someone’s back pocket. The trace of the wallet inside the larger pocket square formed a surprising and familiar abstract composition. So, ultimately, I am exploiting a property that is intrinsic to indigo-dyed denim, which I like to think of as frottage, but in reverse.

How do your Cyanotype works relate to your works that are more informed by textile?
The cyanotype works combine a relatively old photographic process, with traditional resist-dyeing (shibori) techniques, which typically employ indigo dyes. The works come from the observation that indigo-dyeing concerns controlling the exposure to air, as indigo dyes require oxidation in order to become that rich blue, while cyanotypes require one to control the exposure to light. In these pieces, cloth was prepared by stitching, binding, and applying wax to resist the cyanotype photographic chemicals in exactly the same way one would to produce indigo dyed cloth. By willfully confusing these two distinct techniques, the pieces reveal an isomorphism and latent correlation between the two processes.
I am exploiting a property that is intrinsic to indigo-dyed denim, which I like to think of as frottage, but in reverse. — Michael Milano
Do you see your works as unique or as part of a series?
It depends on the body of work. Some have been conceived as a series in advance, like the cyanotype pieces, for example. From the outset I knew that I wanted to bridge a photographic process (cyanotype) with a traditional dyeing and stitching process (shibori). By selecting a handful of shibori techniques, I was able to work through enough stylistic iterations for the series to feel comprehensive and conceptually complete.

On the other hand, the denim pieces feel more unique and less predetermined as a body of work. For me, “a series” implies that the given works benefit from being experienced together, whereas the denim pieces can stand alone, apart from a larger serial context.

Now we have to ask - what’s Shibori?
Shibori describes a number of techniques developed in Japan, which are also related to similar dyeing methods found in India, Africa, and South America; it is just one of many resist-dyeing techniques which center around controlling whether or not the dye is able to make contact with the cloth or fiber. Most shibori relies on folding, binding, and stitching techniques, preparing the cloth before submerging it in a dye vat, usually indigo. The dye is unable to reach the bound areas of the cloth, leaving it in its original condition while dyeing the rest of the cloth. Tie-dye is a modern example of this traditional technique, where twisted and crumpled cloth is bound with rubber bands, which resists the applied dyes.
What are you most interested in representing through your works?
I’m interested in observation and the materials which surround us in our everyday lives. Taking inspiration from specific observations and experiences, I use abstraction to create familiar and generalized compositions that, in the end, point back to the larger world (without being representational). Also, nearly all the denim pieces employ the compositional conceit of an implied gravity, treating abstract shapes as objects with weight and density.

The materiality of denim and process of distressing it are familiar and everyday occurrences; and the compositions share the same logic as the objects around us when piled, stacked, and propped up. In this way, the works are simultaneously abstract and embedded in our daily lives, comprised of intangible objects depicting fully tangible moments.

I use abstraction to create familiar and generalized compositions that, in the end, point back to the larger world. — Michael Milano
What themes or motifs are you consistently drawn to?
Rather than specific themes or motifs, I would say that abstraction is a primary formal and conceptual concern in my practice. What I like about abstraction, and why I keep returning to it, is that certain modes of abstraction fundamentally prioritize visuality and the act of deep looking. The other reason I turn to abstraction is for its ability to emphasize process and materiality for their own sake.

Ultimately, abstraction teaches me to look closely and carefully at the world, and to engage with the materiality of my everyday environment more deeply.

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