minna gilligan speaks in clothes, selfies, and beautiful art
“There’s this expectation of artists to be in the shadows, to be behind a painting. Especially as a woman, and a young woman, I feel it’s really important to be like, 'Hey, this is me, this is what I look like. This is how I present myself'."
Photos by Ben Thomson
Sitting down to speak to Minna Gilligan after spending part of the afternoon re familiarising myself with her work, I notice how much she seems like one of her own pieces. Colourful but considered, nostalgic but never "retro". At first you're struck by how pretty she is, but after a few moments you're drawn in by what she has to say. She easily crosses between chatting about art, fashion, her tips for op shopping, and the constrained way we approach young artists. You can see why she has 43 thousand Instagram followers, she's easy to be around.
In 2011 her teen-bedroom-produced zines were noticed by Tavi Gevinson and she was invited to be a staff illustrator at the newly launched Rookie. Since then, Minna has held several solo shows, picked up clients like ASOS, Urban Outfitters, and Nasty Girl, and had her work acquired by the National Gallery of Australia.
Her latest venture is her first book, Time After Time that departs slightly to explore her love of clothes. While it's a new medium, it explores signature themes: nostalgia, youth, and the place of the artist in their own work. Just with a bunch of outfit ideas thrown in.
Why make a fashion book, as opposed to an art one?
Fashion came out as an interest of mine, that hadn't been explored legitimately. It was always something I've loved and done, but I would've probably called it a hobby rather than part of my practice. But now I've made this book I think of it as something more solid that's actually important in the way I make work.
Your work plays with pop culture and images associated with young women, both things that people can be slow to take seriously. When you're working with those themes, are you conscious of trying to convince the audience to look at them more closely?
I don't know if I make work to be the loudest or to be at the forefront of commentary. I think the way to make people take the issues you want to talk about seriously is to make consistently good and challenging work that you feel happy to put out. I like the idea of constantly plugging away, working hard, and producing good content. Whether it be an exhibition or book or writing online or Instagram or anything. Over time that ultimately has the biggest impact and best possibility of making change.
Speaking of writing online, I like how your website has this natural diary element to it. A lot of artists put huge effort into their sites, but yours really does feel like an extension of you and a breathing piece of work.
My website started as a blog when I was literally, like 16. I like the idea of blogging and having a diary that is permanently online that people can access and isn't private. I like presenting myself on an equal plane to my artwork. There's this expectation of artists to be in the shadows, to be behind a painting. Especially as a woman, and a young woman, I feel it's really important to be like, "Hey, this is me, this is what I look like. This is how I present myself".
I suppose your art is a reflection and a product of your life and if people are interested in that then they should be interested in you.
Totally. Well maybe they don't have to be interested in me but they should respect the way I want to portray myself.
This links back to what you've written and spoken about in relation to selfies. There's so much weird shaming towards selfies. I always think, what's so bad about liking yourself and how you look? You've given the topic a lot of thought, has that self awareness influenced the art you make?
That's interesting, maybe it has. Maybe it's the fact I'm very in my specific aesthetic. I'm very specific in my vision that I want to project. I'm a perfectionist and I want something to be exactly how I feel it should be. It's not how I want it to look, but more like how I feel like it should be. My online presence—where I'm showing myself, my art, my clothes—is intensely curated. I suppose all my work is intensely curated to me. I probably just think too much about stuff.
With all this in mind, were you always going to be so physically present in your book?
Not always. Originally I wanted to feature different models and different body shapes and skin colours. Firstly it was a practicality thing, I was a very available model and I knew what I wanted. Secondly, the book was so personal, and about things and stories I've collected over the years. It's very egocentric. I kind of liked that I could exist in the backgrounds I've drawn. And that comes back to the selfie thing I suppose, why shouldn't I have images of me?
The book is about your favourite things, did you rediscover some old gems?
Heaps of stuff, I have so much crap. It is bordering on ridiculous. My mum would always be like, "Why do you have that? You'd never need that. Throw it out". But now it's like, "Hey I kept all this for my book!"
There's a large element of nostalgia in your work and personal style. When you're so drawn to another time, is there an element of melancholy in being so connected to something that's passed?
I think so. I wrote my Honours thesis about why I have an inexplicable fascination with this. Everything you look back on is through rose tinted glasses.
Does it make you sad?
There's a sinister and a melancholy aspect in my work, generally. It's missing something that I never experienced, that was never really there. My idea of that time is a fantasy really. I suppose it's sort of being in limbo. How I can miss it when it's not real? I find it really interesting, and I suppose there's a melancholy in it.
We pick and choose what we romanticise, it's like curating your own dream version of another time.
That's what I love. When I do interviews, I always get the question, "Where would you time travell to?" I'm always like "I wouldn't go anywhere. Because here I can extract whatever I want from the entire 20th century and 21st century". That's what I mean by it being fantasy, it's completely plucked from specific amazing things that happened.