Interview With Millie Bartlett

Millie Bartlett’s body of works cut and paste the viewer into a myriad of surrealist experiences. Layering images and concepts, meanings and influences over and under one another, her works adopt demarcations of a vivid imagination and the 2D page to produce visions of a conscious unconscious.

“As a woman, the personal is political”- Millie’s works not only explore the illogical and surrealist dreamlike images but genuine experiences of the female artist, and the female. Millie creates otherworldly stories using her artistic oeuvre and everyday experiences within her day job as inertia to develop bespoke collage works of art and, as an extension, a platform for the feminine voice. Her socio-political agenda is apparent as she creates politicised works of art through female protagonists and explorations of the feminine experience over time.

With Millie, her works of art rest your mind in a visual slumber of evocative colours, vibrancies and ethereal experiences that regales in collage dreams across paper.

How long have you considered yourself an artist?
Probably forever... My mother was a painter, so I was always around the smell of turps and linseed oil, palettes and paint rags and her process.  It was all very cool and mysterious and I could sense, even back then, that there was a little ‘place’ that she went to while she was painting and the lure of that, the wanting to know about that ‘place’, was what drew me in.  It was hypnotising watching her work.  I just assumed that because she could make these wonderful paintings that I would automatically be able to do the same.  I remember my mind jarring when I realised - looking at my paintings compared to hers, why didn’t they look the same? - that I might need to work a little on my technique!  

So it was a given that that avenue was open and available for investigation and keen pursuit. As a child I was always creating - haikus, pop-up illustrations, sketches, anything really - so I don’t remember there being a point where I didn’t consider myself a creator/artist.  It was as obvious as stating ‘The sky is blue.’

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Have you always been a collage artist? Or did you play with other forms of art before settling on collage?
I have always played with all forms but only started doing collage seriously about four years ago. I was a painter and sketcher first.  

What drew you towards the form of collage?
I’ve always been drawn to the absurd and illogical and the mysterious and unexplainable and I think collage is a way of indulging that and pushing my own ideas further whilst working within the limits of already printed materials.  I wasn’t really aware of the renaissance collage was having before I started to make collages in earnest.  It was later after I started posting my work to Instagram that I discovered this whole community of collage artists online - it’s pretty amazing.  

Where do you draw the inspiration for a new collage?
Well, I consider my brain the animal that needs feeding, particularly in regards to creativity.  This animal is hungry for stimulus, so I’m always reading articles/novels/essays/interviews.  A lot of what I read feeds directly into my creative work and I really admire how the creatives whose careers I follow rephrase the questions that drive them in new and interesting ways.  Inspiration is everywhere, all the time - we live in a pretty amazing time.

Walk me through your standard art making process?
It’s a cyclical process, for the most part.  I’m always collecting bits of paper, images, magazines or turns of phrase to use.  I think a lot of collage artists feel that this is part of the charm of the craft - we’re always on the hunt for that one image that ignites the cascade of creative flow.  So the process involves visiting thrift stores and scouring second-hand bookstores.  Whatever materials that are sourced join a massive collection of card/paper/ephemera that I have amassed.  

The actual creating can start with just a swatch of coloured paper or some text ripped from a magazine and soon my cutting table becomes a chaotic mess of colour, text and imagery.  I don’t always have a precise vision of what I’m hoping to achieve - sometimes it’s just a theme or a phrase or a feeling - and I comb through my collections to find imagery to match said theme, phrase or feeling.  Sometimes a work can sit half-finished for weeks before I find the right image or colour or piece of text that completes it.  Other times the process is swift and effortless, coming together as if by magic.  The wonderful thing about collage is its immediacy.  Even when a particular collage is taking time to come together, once you have that missing piece you can have it finished pretty quickly and that is ridiculously satisfying.  

In the same way that I have collections of imagery and text, I also have a collection of phrases or potential titles stored in my phone.  Since I’m always reading and devouring information, when I come across an idea that’s been communicated succinctly with real passion and nuance and economy of language, I keep a note of it.   

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Other than being an artist, what is your profession?
Ah, I have quite an interesting day job! I transcribe police interviews. To give you an idea, I get a dvd (so most of the time I get to see the criminals) and transcribe the interview because the matter at hand is going to court but I also transcribe search warrants and undercover operations.  It is an absolutely fascinating thing to see/be exposed to. I love this job - it’s a fantastic anthropological bank of weird neurosis and behaviours that I’m constantly referencing/drawing from.  There are names of people I have never met but will never forget - some really harrowing stories but also some really hilarious ones.  

Do you think your ‘day job’ (for lack of a better word) influences your art making?
My day job can’t not influence my work.  In my line of work I see an awful lot (that’s not a throw-away phrase, it is an awful, lot - more than the average person would assume) of violence against women and young girls. To really appreciate the volume in this way is like seeing the world new again, but much worse; the harsh realities are crisper and more defined and in such clear focus that you can almost reach out and touch this breathing, cancerous state of misogyny and hatred.  It’s truly astounding.  

This is tempered by a greater understanding of why violence against women occurs.  There aren’t always short concise answers that neatly explain everything but it is at the very least, enlightening.  The other perk is leaving work each day thinking, wow, you know what?  I’m kind of winning at life.  

Is there a political agenda behind your works of art?
As a woman, the personal is political.  As long as middle-age white men make decisions about how women live their lives, my creative output cannot help but seen as political.  Most of my work evolves from vintage women’s magazines so womanhood is a recurring theme in my work.   Women and the concept of stereotypical femininity are still used to sell products/conformity and I enjoy disrupting that paradigm.  Given the political climate right now I feel it has never been more important to keep bringing attention to women’s stories and voices and illustrating what I know about gendered violence (from the criminals themselves).  

You note the influence of artists such as:
Pablo Neruda,
Miranda July,
Louise Bourgeois,
Philip Larkin

Despite their fields diverging from the likes of your form of collage, how do these artists influence your collage making practices?
As a creator I aim to tell the truth, however uncomfortable, to amuse myself and be my most authentic self.  These four (out of many more) artists are enduring to me for the authority with which they speak their truths with their own voice.  They are less concerned with be right than the are about being honest.  They’re not saying anything ‘new’ as such, but they’re looking at life with a genuine curiosity which makes the topics they address feel new again, energised.

Do you have any upcoming solo/ collaborative exhibitions?
There is a group show I’m a part of in July that’s happening over in New York in partnership between Brooklyn Collage Collective and the Sydney Collage Society.  Over 30 (quite tremendous) collage artists featured in the show and I’m very excited to be part of it.

Get around the complexity of Millie’s works of art here.

Words by Lotte Thomson-Vock