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 Gary Milek  (1941 - )

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Lived/Active: Vermont/Connecticut      Known for: landscape tempera painting

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Ad Code: 4
Gary  Milek
Migration South
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Gary Milek works with tempera, watercolor and gold leaf and paints in realistic style landscapes, flowers and herbs.  As a child he knew that he wanted to be a professional artist.  Born in 1941 into a farming family in Glastonbury, Connecticut, Milek has retained his farming roots. He now lives in Windsor, Vermont, where he and his wife, Sarah, a nationally known gardener and herbalist, established Cider Hill Gardens & Gallery.

At a young age he began studying art at the Wadsworth Athenaeum Museum in Hartford, Connecticut, and received an art scholarship to Syracuse University.  He attended the Boston Museum School of Art and obtained a grant to study painting in Holland at Rijks Academy, at the famed the Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands.  It was there that he became acquainted with the 15th century techniques of preparing gesso panels, egg tempera mediums, and guilding with gold leaf.

After two years in Amsterdam, spent studying and copying the works of theOld Master painters, Milek returned to New York City- during the 1960's, a time when abstract art was at its peak and most artists were painting in imitation of the New York School.  Influenced by these trends, he painted in oils in the expressionist style, but unfulfilled, he returned to nature for his inspiration and themes. It was at that point in his career that he chose egg tempera as his medium and moved to northern New England to paint his passion.

Milek taught drawing and painting at Dartmouth College, in Hanover, New Hampshire, for seventeen years before retiring to paint full time from his studio in Windsor, Vermont.

Unlike many of today's artists, Milek does not rely on photographs, preferring instead to work from sketches.  He takes his drawing materials into the field, be it to their extensive flower and herb gardens at Cider Hill Gardens, or the old apple orchard on their property, surrounded by gnarled trees and dense woods, or to the pastoral landscapes that distinguish his work.  He then paints watercolors based on the sketches, which are sometimes finished paintings in themselves. These "notes in watercolor", as he terms them, are the basis for later egg tempera paintings.

Gary Milek has lived his commitment, becoming a family supporting artist, and earning the respect of artists and collectors nationwide for his intimate and detailed landscapes in egg tempera, including the use of gold leaf, and watercolors of flowers.

His work has been exhibited throughout New England, in New York City, Rhode Island, Washington D.C. and California-at such prestigious galleries as the National Academy of Design and Wunderlich & Company in NYC, the Copley Society of Boston, Dartmouth College in Hanover and Saint-Gaudens in Cornish, New Hampshire.

In the words of one of his collectors, American artist George Tooker, "Milek paints with a quiet and compelling lyricism. The work hangs harmoniously because of the talent, the depth of feeling, and the sincerity of the artist."

"Gary Milek's Vermont is both real and imagined, a wonderous place where the landforms intersect the divine." — Robert McGrath Professor Art History, Emeritus, Dartmouth College



Biography from Cornish Colony Museum:
Robert L. McGrath
Professor of Art History, Emeritus
Dartmouth College

Over a century ago a group of artists began to congregate in the New Hampshire highlands near Cornish in order to draw inspiration from the pastoral beauty of the surrounding landscape. Assisted by a young architect and landscape designer named Charles Adams Platt, they positioned their homes and gardens so as to frame the most conspicuous feature of the Upper Connecticut River landscape, the solitary monadnock of Mount Ascutney.  A near perfect pyramid, arising out of the flat plain of the bordering Vermont valley, Ascutney was to become the colony’s monte sacro, a cultural reminder of Italy and a sacred symbol of place.  In the broadest and most profound sense, Mount Ascutney was to become the spiritual icon of the “American Renaissance.” 

Among the numerous colony acolytes devoted to the shrine of the isolated and resurgent mountain---monadnocks are the remnants of dormant volcanoes---a young painter, Maxfield Parrish, took up residence near Cornish and began to shape a vision of the Vermont landscape that endures to this day.  His preternatural views of a pastoral paradise, executed in a tightly finished “realism” that transcends the mere transcription of nature, were to confer a heightened spiritual, nearly mystical, status upon the land and its natural avatar Mount Ascutney.  In a series of luminous canvases Parrish celebrated the mountain together with the rural beauties of the Upper Connecticut Valley.
The most direct heir to the cultural legacy of the Cornish colony is Gary Milek whose contemporary studio is located in the hilly hinterland near Windsor, Vermont.  From his lofty perch Milek can survey, like Parrish and others before him, the seasonal glories of the Vermont countryside.  And like Parrish, Milek consciously locates Ascutney at the cultural epicenter of his idyllic vision.

Milek’s complex aesthetic, however, is informed by multiple influences that lie beyond his mystical bond with the Cornish colony.  First and foremost is his devotion to the practices of the European Old Master tradition.  His deployment of the egg tempera technique, together with his signature use of gold leaf, derives, not from the traditions of Cornish, but from the study of the Old Masters in the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum.  A graduate of the prestigious Rijksakademie, Milek assimilated those practices to his native vision of the Vermont landscape.  His use of gold leaf, for example, is derived from late-medieval and early-Renaissance art, yet Milek employs that spiritualized medium not to symbolize Paradise but, rather, Heaven on Earth.  Inverting the traditional hierarchy, he deploys the gold leaf for the foreground and middle distance rather than the sky.  The intent is clearly to denote that Vermont is the earthly Paradise.

The inherited cultural trope of Vermont as an earthly Paradise---a rural refuge from the uncertainties of urban modernity--is derived from numerous literary and pictorial sources including Sinclair Lewis, Dorothy Canfield Fisher, Luigi Lucioni and Paul Sample.  Only Milek, however, has developed the emphatic means to envision a moralized landscape open to a spiritual reading.  Describing himself as a modern alchemist, transforming gold into landforms, rather than base metal into gold, he has developed a symbolic code that resonates with anyone who loves Vermont.  Stable, planar and frontal, Milek’s compositions are as “classical” as the early Renaissance models to which they pay homage.  His recent adoption of the triptych format---the traditional structure of the Renaissance altarpiece---further adumbrates the spiritual connotation of his landscapes.  “Mastering the techniques of the past,” he states, “enables an artist to convey his wishes in the present.”  This ambition has clearly been attained in this series of shining and translucent panels that both absorb and reflect the ambient light, a light that glows alchemically with the radiance of eternity.

Submitted by Alma Gilbert, Director Emeritus of the Cornish Colony Museum with permission of the artist


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