Wardell Milan

In a land of great sunshine No.3, 2023
acrylic, aerosol paint, marker, oil pastel, cut-and-paste paper, metalized polyethylene on panel, 48-5/8 x 80-5/8 inches (framed) [123.5 x 204.8 cm]

New York-based artist Wardell Milan works in mixed media, combining elements of photography, drawing, painting, and collage. His work often explores the duality between marginalization and freedom of expression, imagining spaces where the marginalized body is able to express itself and move about the world freely.

A. Ailey III., Dancer, N.Y.C., 2023
collage, 13-1/2 x 15 inches (framed) [34.3 x 38.1 cm], unique

His long-running series have included Parisian Landscapes: Blue in Green, which presents figurative works in a variety of media and focuses on scenes of pleasure and physicality, with wide ranging references to the color blue and its history and meaning. Death, Wine, Revolt, another series, explores themes of over-indulgence, destruction, and revolution.

Two warriors looking for euphoria, 2018
charcoal, graphite, gesso, etching ink, cut-and-paste paper on ink jet print, 47-1/2 x 63-1/8 inches (framed) [120.7 x 160.3 cm]

Milan’s collages often incorporate cut-out photographs, including iconic works by Diane Arbus and Robert Mapplethorpe, as well as Charles Hoff’s images of boxers in The Fights. He also has been inspired by such varied sources and artists as Francis Bacon, Robert Gober, the films of Federico Fellini, bodybuilding magazines, the absurdist plays of Eugène Ionesco, and E.J. Bellocq’s photographs of the Storyville district of New Orleans.

In 2021, the Bronx Museum presented Wardell Milan: Amerika. God Bless You If It’s Good To You, the first major solo museum exhibition dedicated to his work. The exhibition included works on paper that explore the toxic ordinariness of white supremacy in America, through depictions of the everyday lives of Klan members and images of camellia blossoms, in reference to the 19th-century terrorist organization known as The Knights of the White Camelia. In a review of the exhibition in The Brooklyn Rail, Cat Dawson describes Milan’s exploration of the insidious presence of violence in contemporary American life, pairing the “capacious multivalence of Black and queer beauty…next to, even within the same frame as, the banality of white supremacist evil.”

Amerika: Klansman, Patty, 2020
cut and pasted printed paper, 18-5/8 x 14-1/4 inches framed [47.3 x 36.2 cm], unique

In 2022, the Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College presented an exhibition of five monumental billboards installed around campus, paired with works on paper in the museum. The billboards, part of his series 5 Indices on a Tortured Body, focus on marginalized bodies—the quarantined body, the Black body, the migrant body, the female body, and the trans body. Commissioned by the college, Milan’s large-scale digital prints on vinyl featured imagery that combines collage, drawing, and painting, and reconsider the body through the lens of isolation, polarization, and perseverance. 

2014/2020 202 Bay St., Staten Island, 2020
charcoal, graphite, oil pastel, pastel, cut and pasted paper on two inkjet prints, 42-3/4 x 43-3/4 inches (each, framed) [108.6 x 111.1 cm], unique

Since 2019, Milan has worked with BORCH Editions, the Copenhagen printmaking studio, to produce a series of politically charged etchings using a range of printmaking techniques. In addition to printmaking, Milan has often incorporated both innovative and traditional materials in his work, including metalized polyethylene (similar to the material used in emergency blankets), spray paint, house paint, inkjet prints, silver leaf, hand dyed paper, and wax.

Noelle lying in liberation, 2022
silver leaf, acrylic, charcoal, graphite, china marker and color pencil on panel, 25-1/4 x 37-1/4 inches (framed) [64.1 x 94.6 cm], unique

Wardell Milan studied photography and painting at the University of Tennessee and Yale University. His work has been featured in solo shows at the Bronx Museum of Art, New York, and the Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College, Claremont, California. Group exhibitions include the three person shows Please Stay Home at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard University, Boston, featuring the work of Darrel Ellis and Leslie Hewitt, and Dawoud Bey, John Edmonds, Wardell Milan at the Art Gallery of Ontario. His works are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Art Institute of Chicago; Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago; Denver Art Museum; Brooklyn Museum, New York; The Morgan Library & Museum, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; UBS Art Collection; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, among others. Milan’s work was the subject of the 2015 monograph between late summer and early fall, edited by Cay Sophie Rabinowitz and published by Osmos Books.