Wardell Milan: Modern Utopia

New work features drawing, painting, and collage, often incorporating photography.

Fraenkel Gallery is pleased to present Modern Utopia, an exhibition of new multimedia work by Wardell Milan. Ranging from intimate collages to large-scale narrative paintings, the artist depicts scenes of pleasure or violence, often imbued with a sense of unease. Long grounded in photography, his work is open-armed in its approach to materials. Images from photojournalism and news media often serve as references for figures in acrylic and oil pastel, and photographs by artists such as Robert Mapplethorpe are cut and recombined with graphite markings. This will be Milan’s third solo show with the gallery since 2019. A reception with the artist will take place on Saturday, March 23, from 2-4pm.

Lovers. Outside the world is on fire., 2023
charcoal, graphite, acrylic, color pencil, pastel, oil pastel, yupo, cut-and-paste paper & woodblock print on hand-dyed paper, 56-1/8 x 71-1/8 inches (framed) 142.6 x 180.7 cm]

Several large works depict scenes of strife, pictured in human terms. In one, a couple embrace in a vivid red room while bombs explode outside. In another, children anxiously look to a sky filled with gunfire or rockets. As in much of his work, Milan bases his figures on photographs that he finds in newspapers, online news sites, and magazines, often using many different sources for a single piece. The technique connects his work to current events, including themes of war and migration, while focusing on the individual relationships between his subjects.

The cruel Mediterranean Sea, 2023
charcoal, graphite, acrylic, color pencil, pastel, oil pastel & cut-and-paste paper, 54-3/4 x 76-1/4 inches (framed) [139.1 x 193.7 cm]

Other large works depict water, continuing Milan’s formal engagement with the color blue. In one, a group lounges at the edge of a pond. Their poses are relaxed, but a note of foreboding pervades the dark water and sky. In another, men and women stand knee-deep in ocean waves, reaching towards two figures that slip into or out of the water. In these works, Milan considers the role that large bodies of water have played in narratives of escape, while also serving as a site of leisure or celebration.

Carriejune, 2023
charcoal, graphite & silver leaf on paper, 46 x 32-1/8 inches (framed) [116.8 x 81.6 cm]
Stefi, 2023
charcoal, graphite & silver leaf on paper, 46 x 32-1/8 inches (framed) [116.8 x 81.6 cm]

In many works, Milan draws and redraws faces or body parts, creating surreal heads that look in several directions, or legs that twist and bend. A female figure reclines, framed by at least two sets of arms. In drawings of female bodybuilders, women flex many limbs. With a nod to Cubism, the approach implies movement, but also suggests an echo of violence.

The Divine Feminine. Jesús., 2023
charcoal, graphite, color pencil, pastel & oil pastel on paper, 32-3/8 x 24-7/8 inches (framed) [82.2 x 63.2 cm]

Milan began drawing bodybuilders more than fifteen years ago—in returning to the subject, he was interested in the dedication required to transform the human body, a theme he relates to gender transition. Milan connects the drawings to two delicate portraits in charcoal and oil pastel titled The Divine Feminine. The portraits present a vulnerable yet wary picture of fictional subjects who claim an identity between the masculine and feminine.

Bouquet of tulips., 2023
oil, charcoal, acrylic, china marker & graphite on panel, 25-1/2 x 31-1/2 inches (framed) [64.8 x 80 cm]

Milan has described his ongoing series of tulip paintings as a kind of self-portraiture. In the latest, paint partially covers the fine charcoal and graphite underdrawings, creating abstracted, pastel colored groupings of flowers. In other works, Milan continues his unorthodox depictions of Klan members, taking humorous aim at dark imagery with references to sadomasochism.

Terrell with an obedient insurrectionist., 2023
graphite, china marker, ink, acrylic, cut-and-paste paper on yupo, 16-3/8 x 13-3/8 inches (framed) [41.6 x 34 cm]

Works on View

Ask About the Works in this Exhibition

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.