The last year has caused great disruption to British artist Milly Peck’s workflow and routine. Since the dawn of the lockdown, she’s found herself working exclusively on small drawings on paper at home, an activity induced by the fact that she’s not been able to visit her studio; a world away from her typical large-scale, often three-dimensional sculptural works and drawings. Since she’s able to visit her studio in more recent times, however, these larger paintings have returned as her focal point. “But mostly I work with wooden sheet material (and metal sometimes), using a jigsaw and a router as my primary tools to cut and carve grooves into these surfaces to make objects,” she says, “which attempt to function simultaneously as sculptures and paintings.”
Milly works across both the 3D and 2D spheres and sees the two as closely related. In fact, the tools used to build her sculptures and paintings are seen, in her eyes, as an extension of her drawing implements, often employed entirely freehand. “It is this potential for error which the freehand carries that interests me,” she tells It’s Nice That, starting with loose sketches before transferring into more sculptural works, and thus moving the image onto the surface or object. These images tend to centre on the notion of the mundane, and how the small things that are observed throughout the day can be metamorphosed into a piece of art.
Much of Milly’s subject matter draws on lived experiences, pulling references from the everyday as well as the domestic sphere. As such, she’s heavily influenced by the historical, geographical and architectural elements of space – especially the environment that her work will be shown in. Perhaps this analytical viewpoint of hers stems back to her childhood spent amongst craftiness, where from a young age she’d draw and make little sculptures out of the things she found in the rubbish bin. Her parents, too, are both actors and creative at heart, what with her father painting her childhood bedroom with murals of monkeys eating fruit atop the doorframe, “which I remember with great fondness”. Of course, these memories would have a lasting impact and thus steer the work that she’d then put out into the world. This subsequently saw the artist studying a BFA at The Ruskin School of Art, Oxford University, before completing a master’s in sculpture at The Royal College of Art in 2016.
How she applies this observational tone to her practice can be observed in the works exhibited in a recently-closed solo show at Vitrine, Basel. The gallery is situated in a public square and surrounded by tram tracks and an old train spot. “This started as the hook for the show, which revolved tangentially around rail travel and its various manifestations in art, literature, theatre and design,” Milly explains, pointing out how her influences are largely disparate and fluctuating, depending on the type of project she’s working on. The last few years though, she’s been researching subjects ranging from Tudor-esque architecture, Foley sound production (the sounds added to films), art deco design and more recently, the works of British playwright Alan Ayckbourn.
Alongside Milly’s theatrical sculptures (which explicitly pinpoint her influences in architecture) are her preliminary sketches. These drawings have all been created using coloured pencil over the last year and, are focused more on the planning of her sculptures, rather than being stand-alone works. It’s surprising, as these pieces glimmer with such constructivist, meticulous skill that they hold much pertinence on their own. “These recent drawings, for me, have been an opportunity to try to expand and refocus my use of drawing, and have enabled me to play with tonal variation, colour layering and depictions of shadow in a concise way, which I do not allow myself in more three-dimensional works,” she adds of these delectably shaded pieces.
Indeed, many of these works are tightly cropped, purposefully done so in order to appear as if the image is holding back a vital piece of information about the storyline – or, as Milly puts it, “withholding narrative information leaving the viewer to imaging what is unfolding outside of this space. They often have a performative or slapstick quality.” Depicting objects such as a bird box, snooker ball, a windscreen or even Hulk’s feet, Milly’s drawings are mesmerising just as much as they are an inquest into something further. The larger drawings especially, titled ZSL I, II and III, she says, “are the product of visiting various zoos, theme parks, museums and other sites of entertainment or spectacle over the last few years.” Milly’s enamoured by these public spaces, that bellow with theatricality and offer up a whole host of interesting inspirational points to draw from. “I’m interested in how illustration and functionality must overlap in these environments, sometimes for clumsy or comedic effect.”
Attention is paid to this humorous quality within her works, where satire runs wild yet comes packaged in a highly detailed and colourful manner. She uses these comedic devices as a way of investigating a specific subject matter, like the zoo or theme park and, in turn, examine life around her, all with a critical, signature large-scale lens.
Milly Peck: Snooker (ball), 29 x 42cm. Images courtesy of the artist and VITRINE (Copyright © Milly Peck, 2021)
About the Author
Ayla is currently covering Jenny as It’s Nice That’s online editor. She has spent nearly a decade as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.