Current Exhibition: 8 – 14 December 2019
Gallery Eight, 8 Duke Street, St James’s, London, SW1Y 6BN3>
Homage to Milly
By Michael Cole
Many artists produce a lifetime of good work without ever finding a style that is truly their own. Milly Flamburiari is not one of them. It is impossible to see one of her pieces without instantly remarking, “That’s Milly”.
Whatever her subject, she manages to capture it in line, colour and most importantly — at least to me — emotion. And she does so in a way that is entirely her own.
Perhaps her true gift is to create a world of which I should desperately like to be a part. I suspect that may be a feeling shared by many who look into Milly’s realm and wonder what it would be like to walk in her exotic gardens by moonlight, fix a Balkan Sobranie into their Asprey cigarette holder in one of her elegant salons, take a stroll down La Rue de la Paix with an appointment at Van Cleef & Arpels on their minds or pause at the top of the Parsenn before taking up the challenge, “Last to the bottom buys lunch!”
Who wouldn’t wish to live in a world where style is not something you check in Vogue before leaving home, where the glimpse of a woman’s profile can change lives and where the silhouette of a man tells you all you need to know about the manner in which he has lived his life until that very moment.
Fanciful? No. Ask yourself, how many other artists have ever created work that attracts by invoking the familiar but then transforms it, quite marvellously, into something unlike anything you have seen before? The answer, I would respectfully suggest, is not many.
Humans are not alone in being seduced. I have tried Milly’s cat pictures out on Freddie, our ginger tabby with the most beautiful markings. The pronounced double “M” over Freddie’s eyes rose higher than the golden arches of McDonald’s when he saw and admired Puss in Red Shoes and Cat on the Catwalk, both strutting their stuff to colourful effect.
Appealing to the animal kingdom is no mean feat. There’s no record of a Salford dog reacting to a matchstick dog on Lowry’s mean streets.
The secret pleasure of spending time with Milly’s work is that, without being obvious about it, every piece tells you something about her life, what has inspired her and what has made her happy. The occasional self-portrait, and the rare sneaky inclusion of Count Spiro in a supporting role, marks the passage of the decades in such a true and honest and loving way that you do not have to wonder whether theirs is a happy life; you simply know it.
No one could paint so freely with such vibrant colours, with such sureness of line and with such certainty about the right place for everything without having the confidence that only comes when God-given talent collaborates with an understanding of what it is to be human and then finds precisely the right subject and the right medium to express a passing thought that needs expression or will be lost forever.
This latest collection of Milly’s work takes us into her world once more with more to admire, more to make us wonder and more to enjoy. Can Art be expected to do more than this? I don’t think so.
Milly Flamburiari – The Reality of Imagination
By Edward Lucie-Smith
The paintings in this exhibition bring together a number of different historical sources and influences. One notes the references to Indian miniatures, to Greek religious icons, and to Art Deco illustrations of the 1920s. Sometimes the different sources are combined. In the painting called In the Walled Garden, a sitar player in oriental costume serenades an elegant European beauty. In another work, On the Landing, another European beauty, now in late 18th century costume and wearing a cheeky small hat atop what seems to be a towering wig, passes by a wall on which there hangs an entirely Indian portrait of a prince or rajah. And sometimes figuration is almost abandoned, as it is in the design called House, where the title is reduced to a geometric symbol – an essence, not a representation.
What strikes one about all these paintings, however, is the artist’s grip on the decorative style that she has constructed out of these diverse elements. The works included in the show are in this sense immediately recognisable: they couldn’t be by anybody else. Whatever the declared subject, each painting leads you on to the next. Which is to say that they all employ a fully developed decorative language, fit for any purpose the painter has in mind.
Unlike a great deal of the art being made now, it has no overt desire to deliver a message, political or social, and no impulse, in that sense, to instruct. Its sole aim is to give pleasure.
When you look at these compositions more closely, there is however an element of instruction involved. One of their strongest qualities, so it seems to me, is a kind of smiling irony. For example, the fashionable Art Deco universe evoked in a number of these compositions is one that never fully existed in the real life of the 1920s. The enormous automobile in the centre of Pearls on the Beach would have seemed pretty much out-of-date even then. Though nothing indicates the make of the car, the Rolls-Royce Springfield Silver Ghost, a luxury open-top tourer launched in 1926, had much sleeker carriage work than this, and so too, presumably, did similar machines manufactured at that time, addressed to the same market. The Deco princess seen in profile in the foreground stares past it, as if it doesn’t fully exist in the world that she herself inhabits. The women in the stationary automobile and the man standing on the far side of it do indeed look at her, but as if she is some kind of kind of apparition. The real subject of the painting, as the title indicates, is the string of huge pearls, unrealistically blue, that she wears round her neck.
This kind of juggling between what is supposedly real, and what is symbolic and unreal, occurs in all of the works including figures, which is to say in the majority of the paintings presented in the show. Very much part of this is the use of compressed perspective. In the West people tend to think of this characteristic as being an invention of the Modernism of the early years of the 20th century, but in fact it goes much further back in art history than this comparison suggests. It is, for instance, a conspicuous feature of the Mughal miniature paintings that are directly referenced in the paintings exhibited here. Even where the direct reference is not present, the method used to construct these compositions is the same.
Throughout the history of art, artists have borrowed from their predecessors, and also from cultures other than their own. Celebrated examples are what Impressionist painters borrowed from the ukiyo-e prints of Hokusai and other Japanese printmakers of the same epoch, and what Picasso took from tribal African art. Milly Flamburiari’s paintings offer examples of the same process. They offer borrowings from what one might call ‘demotic’ sources, not grandee ones. Her Art Deco influenced works are not in debt to paintings produced by leading masters in the years that immediately followed World War I – the epoch sometimes described by art historians as that of the rappel à l’ordre (return to order). What she has been fascinated by are the fashion plates and some of the posters of the same epoch. These have offered her a visual language that she can transmute, just as she transmutes aspects of Mughal miniature painting. One feature of these beginning years of the 21st century has been a huge amount of cultural confusion. Too many powerful influences from different sources. I think it is a feature of what Milly Flamburiari does that she has both used what she wants, and also resisted things she doesn’t. The basic aim of her work is to give pleasure to the viewer. No more and no less than that.