Thomas Barger and Claire Milbrath at Projet Pangée

Artists: Thomas Barger, Claire Milbrath

Exhibition title: A House is Not a Home

Venue: Projet Pangée, Montreal, Canada

Date: June 10 – July 17, 2021

Photography: all images copyright and courtesy of the artists and Projet Pangée, Montreal

Montreal, June 9, 2021 —  Building a home from scratch becomes a deepening of self-knowledge as the woven details of our lives, the hopes and aspirations, are examined. Those desires, contained within our bodies, must be frankly observed in order for a home to emerge. This period of heightened consciousness, both physical and emotional, also speaks to Thomas Barger’s and Claire Milbrath’s creative processes. Those same questions reflect the structures, relationships, and narratives of their lives, and from series to series, mark cycles of transition and evolution as they slowly integrate into a larger whole.

We often say that the kitchen is the heart of a home, a place for family to gather and be nourished. After returning to her coastal hometown of Victoria, Canada last Fall, Milbrath began a series of kitchen scenes to conjure a better reality for herself. Painting spaces that symbolized stability, feminine strength and family marked a new beginning after tumultuous times. As this work developed into a series and expanded from the kitchen to the garden and kink scenes, the eponymous figure of (Poor) Gray also grew in strength and pétillance, his body filling in with muscles, healthy curled locks and pink cheeks. Milbrath’s alter ego found himself loyal companions, a group of fluffy bichons that can also be seen as a portrait of the artist, embodying the grounding and blossoming desires that Milbrath is now pursuing.

Barger’s paper pulp sculptures exude a quirkiness that goes beyond the utility of the object. With their rounded edges and vibrant vitamin-like colours, one might imagine that the work has been licked into shape, softening it into a giant, delectable treat. The recurrent single hole or perforated pattern in Barger’s sculptures holds several significances for the artist, connecting the strictness of his upbringing to sexual expression. For Barger, who was raised on a farm in the American Midwest, working through the symbolism of the chair is also a way of questioning domesticity, religion, hetero-conventions, and queerness in regards to his roots. His sculptures, while retaining some memory of their past lives, project both a simplicity and an inventiveness that reveal Barger’s process as clarifying introspection.

Thomas Barger (b. 1992) lives and works in Brooklyn, USA. Originally from a rural Cattle farm in Mattoon, Illinois, Barger came to New York in order to access his own homosexual identity at a distance from his rural, conservative, religious background. Amidst this newly chosen environment, Barger’s work has been a process of emotional, intellectual, and spiritual exploration grounded in craft, narrative, and humour. Barger studied architecture and landscape architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He recently had solo shows at Salon 94, New York (2019), Supply Seoul, Seoul (2019) and will have his first museum show at Hancock Shaker Village Museum, Pittsfield. A House is Not a Home at Projet Pangée is his first exhibition in Canada. He is represented by Salon 94 Design, New York.

Claire Milbrath (b.1989) is a self-taught artist working with painting, sewing, and drawing. Adopting an artistic style reminiscent of the Naive Painters, Milbrath incorporates large swaths of lush colour to construct her compositional space, renewing the colouristic tradition with vignettes relating to unrequited love, sexual fantasies, and childhood innocence. For Milbrath, removing the sexualized female body from the painting is a way to reinstate a practice free from gendered norms. In her recent body of work presented at Projet Pangée, Milbrath discloses biographical elements to her paintings to harmonize aspirations into her personal life. She has been actively exhibiting her work in recent years in both solo and group exhibitions. Recent exhibitions were presented at Projet Pangée, Montreal, (2020); Steve Turner, Los Angeles, (2020); Marie-Laure Fleisch, Brussels, (2019). She is the editor-in-chief and founder of Editorial Magazine.