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Millie Clarke: From still life to expressive abstract

Rogue Valley artist Millie Clarke calls starting one of her abstract paintings the “agony and the ecstasy.”

“The agony is not knowing what the painting is going to be,” she says. “Starting an abstract is about texture and color, but you have to have ideas. When I started painting, I did a few still lifes. Then I longed for more movement in my art. A still life is a still life.”

Clarke didn’t become a painter until she was in her 60s, she says.

“I actually tried being a welder for a while,” she laughs. “I love metal sculpture. I took a class, but soon found out I wasn’t built to be a welder.”

Clarke was raised in Medford and earned a master’s in education from Southern Oregon College. Her work is represented at Art du Jour Gallery, 213 E. Main St.

She’s the featured artist this month at Art du Jour. Oil painter Debby Fisher is guest artist. A reception will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19.

At Rogue Gallery & Art Center, 40 S. Bartlett St., a reception will be held for photographers Lewis Anderson and Darcie Sternenberg and pastel artist Marilyn Hurst.

Clarke reached a point last year where she felt her art wasn’t progressing much, she says.

“I thought things were getting stale. I went to smaller pieces and actively searched for new techniques to use. I wanted to work with different tools, but not have them circumvent my standard use of heavy textures and vibrant colors.”

Her newest collection is a series of paintings roughly 24-by-18 inches on board rather than canvas.

“It’s a different feel for me,” she says.

“I experimented with different devices and techniques. I’d seen other artists add small lines to their paintings after they applied color. I found several devices for adding these narrow lines. It was exciting and frustrating, and the process reminded me of my days at Jackson Elementary School learning to write cursive with pen and ink.

“After I have everything the way I want it, I put in extra lines of color to add excitement to the painting. I found that unexpected mishaps can be turned into interesting aspects. Sometimes trying new things is fun and can help move you along in your career.”

Clarke uses brushes, texture combs and, more recently, line applicators for her paintings.

“One might want to practice with line applicators,” she says. “I thought I’d ruined a couple of paintings, but the more I looked at the lines the more I liked them.”

Line applicators are like a pen nib attached to a plastic applicator. The can be found at art supply stores.

“I thought they worked just fine until one put a big blob of black ink on one of my finished pieces,” Clarke says. “Then when I took another look at the painting, I liked it better. It made it more exciting.”

Clarke continues to use bright colors, some that others say clash.

“I find that if I just try different colors together, sometimes I can have very pleasant results,” she says.

Her white, turquoise and lavender strokes stand out against a variegated sienna background on “New Beginnings.” On “Marionette,” her blue strokes stand out as movement against a red and gold background.

“I was thinking back to how I started these abstracts,” Clarke says. “My favorite painters are van Gogh and Picasso, and I stared copying their works. I found I could copy pretty well, but I needed to do my own work.

“I started painting abstracts by putting two or three colors on my brush, then with little conscious thought I would swirl the brush over the paper or canvas so that the colors blended, forming different shades. It seemed like my hand was moving on its own accord, there were times my eyes were almost shut, and it felt like my body was acting on its own.

“An art professor at SOC said my paintings reminded him of those on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, because the strokes of brush almost touch, but don’t. ‘It gives you this feeling of being pulled toward it,’ he said. I would like to get this kind of force, movement or action going in my paintings.

“The ecstasy is the success,” Clarke says. “It’s a painting I’m happy with.”

Laurie Heuston is a writer and editor at the Mail Tribune. Reach her at lheuston@rosebudmedia.com.

"Marionette," acrylic on board by Millie Clarke, at Art du Jour Gallery.