When Ian Milliss began exhibiting in the late 1960s at Sydney’s Central Street Gallery - the artist run centre of hard edged abstraction - his work consisted of modular, repetitive, geometric shapes grouped together to produce a series of ‘folding’ illusionistic canvases. Even these earliest of works done in his teens display his interest in ambiguity and multiple readings, the clash of illusion and reality that was to develop into the preoccupation of his entire career - the many ways in which we try to impose structure on a reality which is ultimately unknowable. Within the first few years he recognised art itself to be one of those illusory structures.Read More
By the end of 1967 a range of influences converged to develop the conceptual tendencies already begun in Milliss’s early shaped canvases. The first had been the opening of Central Street Gallery. Although it is known for its promotion of formalist hard edged abstraction, it was more important to Milliss as the place where he “met people who confirmed my understanding that art could be a type of philosophical debate carried out with images and actions, not just the business of manufacturing expensive decorative images of scenery ”.
Milliss' later works executed in Florida were the first complete series of paintings he had done in thirty years and were intended to critique the vapid form of conceptualism, ie, that which mimics without the political content, that has developed over the last twenty five years. Just as the earlier works set out to contradict the proscriptions of Greenbergian formalism, these works set out to contradict the post modern orthodoxy of appropriation- they are not installations but flat square paintings, they contain simple iconic symbolic images of systems of memory and categories of knowledge and they consciously strive for the immediate visual appeal of the greeting card, computer icon or directive signage. They are a shorthand visual language, which mimics instructional signage and the assimilated and usually uncritiqued advertising logos seen at almost every waking moment in our lives.