by Sean Mattson
An Open-Minded Person
by Lou Christine
The year 1999 was, for those who
follow the Gregorian Calendar, the end ofthe second millennium. For followers of Chinese Astrology however, most of last year marked the Year of the Rabbit of the Oriental calendar' s fifth millennium. Some people pay attention to these things. Sculptor Sharon Milligan is one of them.
To mark the celestial furball's reign of the astral plane last year, the San Miguel de Allende-based artist sculpted a branze rabbit in her studio, located directly above her cozy gallery on Hernandez Macias. She says the creation, released in a limited series of 12, carne about by accident. But the unexpected sculpture braught the artist plenty of attention fram the community, especially from a local Chinese restaurant.
"They joked and asked me if I would make them a dragon this year," Milligan said, "1 told them of course I would." And she did.
If the dragon-bearing rabbit is just an accident, most people would give their left foot to be as accident-prone as Milligan. Not to discount her talent and dedication, Milligan's life and artistic trajectory are the result of another lucky mishap, the one which braught her to San Miguel de Allende.
Milligan first heard of San Miguel while living in California during the mid-80s. A quaint artists' community worth the visit, she was toldo Convinced, Milligan decided to visit and found the town "charming, very rustic and free from distractions." In short, a perfect place to develop as an artist. At the time she was a cracker jack real estate braker for a successful company in California -hey, "had to have a day job," she jokes.
Shortly thereafter she took a solo drive out of California for a second short vacation in San Miguel de Allende. She was only planning on staying a "few e weeks, couple of months" but that short vacation is now fifteen years long and ti counting. As Milligan says, "people
don't choose San Miguel, San Miguel (
chooses people." (
San Miguel has good taste. Milligan's new day job entails full-time e creation, running her gallery eS an n Miguel's first and only sculpture d gallery), giving classes to aspiring sculptors of all ages and involvement in e S an Miguel' s ever- growing arts community.
The Open Minded People
Besides the remarkable celestial branzes Milligan has developed recently, she is renowned for the surreal sculptures and paintings she calls Open Minded People. She describes them as whimsical but packed with a heavy handed message. Perhaps inspired by the artist's outlook on life, "1 let them become who they want to become." Any one of the Open Minded People can manifest itself as many different pieces, always the result of experimentation with ideas, methods and mediums. The Open Minded People began as an experiment with small creations such as soap dishes
and evolved into a series of
more than 200 pieces varying fram sculptures and paintings to lamps and fountains.
Milligan's branzes are stunning examples of high-buffed imagery, Whisk clean, sweepingly simple and soothing and solid to the touch. Shedding any hint of highbraw hauteur, Milligan invites visitors to her gallery to explore the textured surfaces of her sculptures with their hands.
From sleek Abyssinian cats perched on their hind legs to painstakingly etched branze faces and a vividly portrayed woman with sunken features and a shawl covering her head, Milligan's sculptures are diverse. Some are strong featured, sharp and rigid, while others are smooth and plane, sanded down to a desert's flatness.
The Foundry and Árt
In the male-dominated world of branze sculpting, Milligan stands out as one of the few women who have courageously broken through the discriminative barrier that surrounds many foundries. Despite the "unwelcome incidents" Milligan endured by taking on foundries over the years, the lone blowtorch-weilding lady has carved herself a unique niche of mutual respect with her male colleagues.
Quick to point out that she has endured her share of failures, disappointments and all the other shin-busters that discourage artistic development, Milligan is as happy as she has ever been since establishing herself in San Miguel. She says Mexico's natural environment is extraordinary, the strong and vibrant light making objects glow from within. Moreover, Milligan appreciates the
extraordinary support for art in Mexico on alllevels, saying that art in this country reaches beyond the superficial commercial interests that dominate in many places around the world.
Visual art for Milligan is the purest form of communication, at least in its more traditional manifestations. Hers is work which does not need a textual explanation like much of today's contemporary art does, which suffers fram the "emperor' s new clothes syndrome," as a friend of Milligan so fittingly calls it.
"Art is one of those mediums where less is more... four and five-year-olds might be the bestjudges of art, (they are) able to be stirred by the visual before their perspectives are bent and unduly influenced," she says.
The amiable and open-rninded Milligan boasts of a long line of showings, and currently exhibits her work regularly in California. She is an involved member of San Miguel's community and recentIy helped organize two successful art walks. During her 15 years in San Miguel she has become a seasoned professional but is not content to bask in the glory of past accomplishments. Jokingly, she says she's sentenced to a life of clay embedded under her nails and plans to continue creating as long as she can.
Milligan's work may also be coming to a park or plaza near you in the next few years, as she feels the time has come to do a large-scale public sculpture. The only obstacles in the way are the legalities surrounding public sculpture and finding sponsorship, but considering the barriers Milligan has already turned to dust, there is little doubt her large-scale dream will be realized one way or the other.