Meet painter Darby Milbrath, from our new video series "Musik in Motion"

Feb 25, 2021

Meet painter Darby Milbrath, from our new video series "Musik in Motion"

Today, we launched Musik in Motion: a free series of collaborative videos featuring local artists of diverse art forms produced by Puncture Design. In keeping with Tafelmusik’s commitment to exploring “baroque and beyond,” Puncture and Tafelmusik invited five creative partners to interpret music that is an essential part of Tafelmusik’s signature repertoire. The series is launching with a video featuring local artist Darby Milbrath.

Darby Milbrath is a Toronto-based fine artist, who first collaborated with Tafelmusik in 2020, when one of her paintings served as the cover art for our first issue of Tafel Magazine. Now, get to know a little bit more about Milbrath, her practice, and her involvement in this project.  

A portrait of Darby Milbrath, a young woman wearing a dark dress in front of an old paned warehouse window, with a warm glare of yellow and orange light. Photo by Norman Wong.
Darby Milbrath. Photo by Norman Wong.

In this project, you’re shown creating a new artwork, along to our recording of Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto in C Minor, RV 761 “Amato Bene” from Vivaldi con amore. Do you often paint to music? If so, which artists, and how does it influence your approach?

I always paint to music. It's what connects my painting to my past in professional contemporary dance, ballet, and choreography. I've always considered dancing and painting as a visual expression of music. It influences the movement or pressure of the brush on the canvas, the subject matter, colour, and emotional feeling of my work. I paint primarily to classical music, early choral music, and baroque music. Bach's violin concertos, Stravinski's Rite of Spring, Hildegarde Von Bingen, and Marin Marais are a few of my favourites. 

You collaborated with Tafelmusik once before, in 2020, for the cover of the first issue of Tafel Magazine. Prior to this, had you heard of Tafelmusik? And what drew you to this video project in particular?

I've attended several Tafelmusik concerts before we first started working together, which I found very inspiring for my painting. 

I was interested in the challenge of capturing my painting process on film: a process which happens very spontaneously and dynamically, with no planning or mapping it out beforehand. I thought it was an opportunity to be vulnerable, and capture a very authentic experience in my studio. 

The painting you created for this project depicts two female figures, in a lush landscape of leaves. Can you speak a little about this scene, this narrative?

This painting is a spontaneous, visual interpretation of the concerto. Inspired by the duality of the song between intensity and softness, two figures are shown on the canvas in a wild landscape. There is a sense of playfulness and mischief in the painting which was inspired by the lively energy in the concerto. 

Are there common themes, or narratives, throughout your work?

Nature as an overwhelming and supernatural force is a theme I explore often. The landscape here is moving, and dominating the figures within it. Sisterhood, and female figures in motion, are themes I often revisit. The figures are like dancers, and the imaginary landscape appears to almost be a stage set background. The theatre, drama, light, movement, and magic are ongoing themes in my paintings.

What is your artistic approach like, in terms of process? Do you begin with a sketch, a plan, or do you dive in and let your imagination guide you as you go?

I go forward blindly with no plan, and instead follow my imagination and intuition. I prefer to allow the paint and music to direct me and any impulse that arises. When I paint, I feel more like I am listening. In this way, I feel the paintings come together like magic. I hardly know what the painting will be until it is completed. It's an active practise of faith. 

Can you share if and how the pandemic has affected your artistic practice?

As an artist, solitude is very important for me, so I find this time very productive. I am finding I’ve needed to increase my efforts: to find new ways of filling the well of creativity with the restrictions and closures. I'm constantly dancing, writing, singing, finding ways to be in nature, reading, and committing to my spiritual practise as a way of keeping stimulated, happy, motivated and inspired. My life is dedicated in every waking moment to serve my painting—and when we can't hear live music or see paintings or travel, we must gather the inspiration elsewhere.

What other artists do you admire? And which contemporary, living artists should we be paying attention to right now?

I admire the paintings of Seraphine Louis, Chagall, and Odilon Redon, as well as Les Nabis painters. Contemporary artists Azadeh Elmizadeh, Srijon Chowdhury, Sky Glabush, Danielle McKinney, and Salman Toor are a few of my favourites currently. 

Do you have any projects or exhibitions coming up?

I have two solo shows this year. One is coming up in April in London, England, and the other is this fall in Los Angeles. I'm also looking forward to two month-long artist residencies later this year, one in London, and the other in Mallorca, Spain.

Learn more about Darby Milbrath and her work on her website, or follow her on Instagram.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel to be notified when new videos from our Musik in Motion series are available to watch.

Darby Milbrath
Musik in Motion
visual art