The drawings, and friends, of Gijs Milius

With a series of his drawings now on show at Island, we take a closer look at the work of Dutch-born, Brussels-based artist Gijs Milius (1985).

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What were your original ideas and intentions at the start of working on this new series?
This is a series of portraits I recently started, now on display at Island, Brussels. The show is called “Island.” The drawings are of friends I like to discuss my work with. In the process of making new things, it’s important for me to consult my peers, to reflect on it, straighten, and filter my ideas. On my friends’ faces I drew uncharacteristic negative expressions; skeptical, disappointed or suspicious eyes looking at you, but their heads slightly turned away as if they don’t want to face you. I want to describe them as ‘fictional,’ but I can’t find the right phrase. Then, Brice from Island called me early on February and proposed a show on March 3rd. Even though I had just started these drawings, the show was a good opportunity for me to work out what I had already done. The idea of showing the portraits was exciting and, after consulting my friends and being confused about the drawings, I decided that it could turn into something interesting.


What would you say was its starting point?  
It started with one portrait of my friend Doug and I thought, this could be a series. I would like to work in series more often to go deeper into subjects. Also: ‘persistence overcomes resistance’ is what the RZA said after agreeing to listen to the demo tape of a guy who had been sleeping outside his studio for a week, and signed him. After years of working on his album with the RZA, the album was finished and the rapper decided not to release it but instead start a new one.


Is there something very specific you’re hoping the series will express/communicate?
I hope that the drawings are interesting or enjoyable in terms of the presentational aspects (lines, colors, shapes, etc) and that these ‘meet’ the representational aspects (light, shadows, a nose, a person, etc). For the installation, the drawings are on the six walls of a small room, forming a circle around the spectator, surrounding them. All these serious faces, staring back at you, I thought, could create a certain discomfort. The portraits don’t have backgrounds – if the drawings have no arena of their own, it might be easier for them to become part of our space. I wanted there to be something interesting or awkward in the confrontation between the drawings and the spectator.

Can you talk to us about your approach in general and how would you say this series fits in with your wider body of work?

It’s hard to tell. I try not to think too much about it. I guess I generally have a sculptural approach. At least when presenting my work, in terms of attaching importance to the direct, sometimes physical, way I want my work to function within a reality. The physical environment is very important in experiencing a work. I like there to be a sort of cross-pollination between a piece and its space. I often prefer to make work ‘in situ.’ There are always questions of working in 2D/3D. A lot of my drawings are of invented sculptures, objects and situations or problems in 3D. My sculptures often have a 2D aspect to them. For this exhibition I put a sculpture in the center of the space and spray-painted a horizon line at eye-level across the walls, windows and staircase, etc. From whichever angle you look at the sculpture, it is always in front of a drawn horizon. It kind of also suggests the feeling of almost drowning. Upstairs, the eyes in the drawings create another circle or horizon.


Can you talk to us about how you see your own work? How would you describe it?
I find this a particularly difficult question, so I have asked my friend Nico to answer it:

“How I see Gijs’s Work? At first glance it’s a permanent conflict between volume and a plane. It’s a matter of drawings that want to be sculptures; like an epic fight bound to be lost, such as the one in the first Rocky film, or a Dutch Don Quijote. It’s a lot of uncertainty, restlessness, but wreaking havoc with a laugh. He once published a little book with his works, drawings, sculptures and photos; on the cover there was a pretty picture of his mother with the title: “Problems.” Also, still in art school, I had asked him what he thought art was, and he responded: “It’s a good question, with a 1000 bad answers.” I think that describes his work quite well.”


What is your preferred medium for exhibiting your work? Book? Solo show? Group exhibition?

I prefer solo exhibitions, although group shows are interesting as well for dealing with the conflict of assembling things that each often require a different type of regard.

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Who would you say was instrumental in shaping your work?
Me, friends, family, school teachers and other artists.

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