Questions & Answers

with Kathryn Milillo

How did you start making art?/Why do you make art?

I vividly remember the moment when art captivated me. I was about six years old. I had been given a Crayola 64-piece boxed set with a sharpener on the back. It had colors I’d never seen — periwinkle and thistle, burnt sienna and yellow ochre. The names alone were a new world. I started layering colors to shade and highlight a chestnut-colored horse. The charm of making art began.
Why make art? I think of it like a ritual call and response; at times it is a deep need to honor life’s realities and at other times a simple celebration of beauty. The scholar Ellen Dissanayake wrote that art is the act of ‘making special’ and that about sums it up for me.
Most of all, I make art because I love oil paints — they are the toys I play with — with lots of opportunity to blend, layer, scumble and dab.


What is the hardest part of creating a painting?

Beginning. It is a dive into the unknown, with fear of failure on hand to spice up the experience. I begin to see what could be possible to paint. And then the painting starts to have its own intention, and I have to listen to what the painting wants. The process is ripe for therapy, with an on-going internal critical voice that I have learned to counter with kindness. Feeling small, unworthy, inadequate because so many amazing artists have shown me the apogee. Painting can lead to interesting quagmires that remind me of those old maps of the world: Here be dragons.

What’s your favorite part of the process?

There have been times when I’ve been immersed in a grand master, listening to Mary Oliver or Thich Nhat Hanh or George Eliot and the words begin to weave into an image I’m working on — an old garage with a door in an unexpected location or a grand cupola topping a spare weathered barn. The nonverbal visual world of the painting becomes enriched by what I’ve been hearing, and I am sated.

What has been the biggest challenge or obstacle that you have encountered on your creative journey?

I find too many sound reasons to avoid my fear of wasting a perfectly beautiful white canvas.

If you could interview or have a conversation with a creative person (past or present), who would that person be and why?

My first thought of a creative person I’d like to talk to is Milton Avery, because I admire his complex color harmonies, the poetic simplicity of his compositions and the whimsy of his subjects. My second thought, if I had the chutzpah, would be Vermeer. How long, and how many glazed layers did it take, to create that luminosity?

Is there a “dream project” that you can imagine working on as a painter?

I have lots of dream projects I’d love to work on! I’d love to paint more small houses like a recently painted fishing shack in Plymouth, Massachusetts. There is a childlike simplicity to these little old dwellings that hide in plain sight — one door, one window — built with care, a home distilled down to a minimum. Like the vanishing farms of Vermont — blink and they will be gone. The really challenging dream project I’d like to work on is to take the 25 ‘beautiful mental formations’ of Buddhism and find a building or landscape to express each one. How thoughts color the mind and how colors can express thoughts — a big elephant to eat, very metaphorically, one bite at a time.

Edgewater Gallery