We had the good fortune of connecting with Neil Milligan and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Neil, what do you think makes you most happy? Why?
I’ve always liked being outside preferably covered in a layer of dirt under a tree and by the water. As a kid the back yard was my natural habitat. I had to be outside building forts with my friends, playing with toy swords, or even just lying on the grass and watching the cottenwood sway in the wind. Looking back that cottonwood seems like and omen of future adventures. It’s a relatively rare tree to see in Ohio and a very special tree to western rivers. Cottonwoods only grow along or in waterways and have been used to track down river oasis in the desert for thousands of years. When I was 16 I left my Ohio cottonwood for the summer to raft guide. Cottonwoods have become even rarer and more special to the Colorado system because they rarely thrive on rivers that have been diverted by damns. Of the three rivers I ran at Adventure Bound Rafting Expeditions, the Yampa is the only one that runs an undiverted course. At the confluence for the Green and the Yampa a grove of cottonwoods stretch their roots into the silty water. In my three summers guiding I never really mastered rowing whitewater rigs but the canyons and the rivers left the most lasting impact on me of any experience in my life and introduced me to conservation and camping that takes you away from the car. This first adventure would fuel my love for the outdoors and, over the years, determine my career path, my artistic practice and even how I spend my free time. In art school my paintings always focused on landscapes. It wasn’t because I thought that these were the most important concepts to add to the conversation nor did I find them particularly original or sometimes even aesthetically pleasing. I was drawn to landscape painting because of its inevitable requirement to stand outside for hours. Landscape painting also gives the painter a chance to engage with a place in a specific meditative way. To slowly mimic what you’re looking at and try to bring something of the experience of being in that place with the sounds and the wind to the canvas. I remember specifically talking one of my professors into leaving class to walk to the Olentangy river and paint. After graduating from OSU I worked a day job as a carpenter for a couple years before I moved to AZ. Shortly after I moved I began working for the Arizona Conservation Corps. A job that demands you to be outside for 10 days at a time and focuses on preserving and caring for the outdoors. Being outside has formed my politics, spirituality, hobbies, art practice, personal purpose and has been enduringly in my life the source of a balance between contented happiness and rugged adventure.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
My art has focused so far on a personal relationship to nature. It is one element of an overall lifestyle and ethos that I’ve somewhat subconsciously fallen into. My landscape paintings are born whenever I have the time to simply exist outdoors and are the record of an active appreciation for natural forms both mundane and sublime. I’ve struggled to set the paintings apart from the direct, tangible influence of post impressionist painters and deal with scale and logistical issues of bringing fragile oil paintings outdoors. While conservation work becomes my day job and takes most of my potential painting time away it is also forms a directly linked professional and artistic practice. As my painting practice progresses I plan to make use of more durable supports that will allow me to move larger scale paintings further from civilization and embrace other influences to push my methods of abstraction.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Mount Lemmon: a great drive that’s accessible to everyone with many overlooks and hikes Sabino Canyon: one of the most quintessential hikes in the Tucson area and it leads to water in the desert La Cocina: an excellent outdoor restaurant with turtles, live music, and beer Benny’s Mexican: the best carne asada I’ve had. Extremely underrated fresh tasting food that’s homemade
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?