"Artist in Residence Series" Featuring Mila Libman


Home: more than a place to lay your head, but a habitat for creativity, creation and ease. Interior design, then, is an extension of these elements — incorporated furnishings, color and artwork to encourage the curation of an ideal home.

This week, we want to kick off our Artists in Residence Series with an interview featuring local Bay Area artist, Mila Libman. Her show "New Waters" is currently at the K Imperial Fine Art gallery in San Francisco.

When taking an initial look at her artwork, it's hard to believe that these images aren't photographs. They're actually exquisitely rendered drawings, mostly charcoal. Mila, a Yale graduate, mother, and painter, chatted with me this past Saturday afternoon about her creative process.

Let's just start with your artistic process – what's that like?

"I'm not sure if you know, but I moved here in '88 from Belarus. In a way, when I go through my process, it’s a lot about translation and transcending. How I translate from one language into another in my everyday life, the same happens when I translate reality into the language of photography and drawing. You have to be versatile in each language to be able to do that. The process itself is very meditative. It’s very labor intensive and obsessive."

"So I go to this place that is very special to me every year, in the Sierras, (my husband has been going with his family since he was young). It feels like a migration—there are other families who go with us every year. It almost doesn’t feel like a new year without going. I started photographing water while out there. The images were so beautiful in terms of color and so abstract too. It was so engaging. Every time I do a piece it leads to another piece. On one hand it's weird, it’s such a narrow subject, but it allows for a lot of room to play. [My paintings] are not photo-realistic in anyway, but they do remind you of something you’ve seen. It’s about transcending materials, pushing them to do something different. I want the mystery of the way they were used to remain. My drawings are very personal to me, but everyone tells me (after seeing my pieces) a different story of what it means to them."

Is it annoying or redundant to ask how long it takes for you to do a piece?

"I work until it’s done and if not, then there goes a month. Each photograph will direct me to do each [painting] differently. Like, if I dilute the ink versus putting the ink strait on. Or start with a color wash on the paper instead of leaving it blank. The white you see in my pieces is never painted but erased, so it glows. They’re more like a painting, than a drawing. Some pieces take a really long time because I don’t know what the next step should be. But some are very direct. When I'm clear on what I want from a piece, then on average it's more like three weeks. For me a week is like four days in the studio from about 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. — I mean, I have kids!"

So wait, you actually have a life, and things to do!?

" Yes! But the shortest time-frame is about 10 days. On the other-hand, sometimes I work for months, and I don’t have any clue what to do next, and then it just hangs there. But when I work on another piece it all of a sudden comes to me, and I change one thing — and it’s done. The piece “Reflections,” I think it took over a year because I didn’t know what it needed. Sometimes it’s not the actual work — it just needs to sit."

So, it's hard not to be moved by your artwork with its use of light and maybe a hint of spirituality?

"I don’t subscribe to any particular religion. What I do believe in, I'm not sure if anyone can prescribe it to me. I don’t know whether it’s light, or something beautiful, or music. I do listen to a lot of music while working, and I have no musical connection whatsoever. But I think music itself is very god-like. I think it’s the beauty in nature that moves me, I think that is where I find my God."