Milli Jannides

Aug 04 2023

Thinking Out Loud

On the development of 'Hothouse' at Coastal Signs

Milli Jannides TOL 1

Photo Credit

Milli Jannides, 'Hothouse', installation view, Coastal Signs, 2023. Image courtesy of Milli Jannides and Coastal Signs.

Milli Jannides
Aug 04 2023

The painter Milli Jannides lives in Stockholm, Sweden, where she moved with her family in 2020 after spending several years in Porto, on Portugal’s northern coast. Jannides has been based in Europe since completing her MFA at London’s Royal College of Art in 2013 but continues to regularly exhibit in Aotearoa.

Her recent exhibition, Hothouse, at Tāmaki Makaurau gallery Coastal Signs, saw Jannides return to Aotearoa to present a new body of work – paintings that gallerist Sarah Hopkinson suggests should be ‘followed like mazes’. In vivid colour and sweeping gestures, Hothouse evoked what Jannides describes as ‘a mood changing like weather’: searching for the major and minor ways our interior, psychological states are made present in the physical worlds we occupy.

Here, Jannides offers a series­ of reflections on Hothouse, sharing insights into her studio practice and recent influences.

Bedtime reading

I was the kid who read books under the covers with a torch when the lights went out. I love reading before going to sleep, but seem to do it less and less. After hustling the five year old into bed, certain streaming platforms are just too tempting.* Nowadays I speed read on the 20-minute train ride to the studio, sometimes before I start painting as a productive form of procrastination, and a little at night (the best).

Influencing the Hothouse paintings was the remarkable non-fiction book Fathoms: The World in the Whale by Australian writer Rebecca Giggs. Remarkable for its poetic scope, the magnitude of the topic and the extensive research that went into it; remarkable also because it held my attention, which is usually pretty faithful to novels.

Here is one quote I copied into my notebook:

I have watched such souls from a distance, but I have also been one of their kind: a figure the size of your thumbnail, wide awake and restless. Wherever you are, let’s say that you saw me, or someone like me, at the edge of the ocean, tracing out brutishness. An otherwise empty beach. Scooped with shadow, and shifty. To be so impressionable: a quality to circle, to covet. Yet, at toe-point, nothing reveals itself as a personal talisman. The seaweed doesn’t scrawl like a sentence.

*'The White Lotus' soundtrack was a great addition to the studio playlist for this body of work, so it’s not all bad.


When I read I’m drawn to imagery that describes a psychological state through a material process: a character’s mood changing like the weather, a household object standing in for something more conceptual or intangible. This is happening in Hothouse. I was thinking about an entry in writer Anaïs Nin’s diary where she imagines shrinking to a size that would allow her to wander around inside her own veins (Sarah Hopkinson writes more on this in the exhibition text).

‘Catfishing’ is a lovely story by Finnish author and Moomin creator Tove Jansson about a couple fighting on a boat. As they argue over a broken net, a storm appears and moves quickly towards them. Jonna, an artist, has just enough time to get to shore and set up her studio before the storm breaks, and the story becomes a parable of artistic creation. Most of my source material returns again and again in various ways to this type of idea – where does inspiration come from? Where do we locate it? How do thoughts, impressions and feelings pass through the body and back out into the world? How do we observe them?

Worms in whales

I was quite taken by the chapter on whale parasites in Fathoms. Which is just to say that all is not well in the world of the Hothouse paintings, despite some pretty and less pretty colours.


I’d like to write a little about the time between finishing the paintings and showing them. To send the work from my studio here in Stockholm to Coastal Signs in Tāmaki Makaurau, I pack the small paintings in a box and the larger paintings are rolled, shipped in a tube and restretched in the gallery. I need to make a sort of pre-deadline which gives enough time for the oil paint to dry before shipping. This is a challenge because I don't plan ahead. I try to keep the working time as open as possible and some paintings end up having many more layers than others. I’ve been doing this for a while now, so I take an educated guess at how far off they seem to me and adjust my studio time as best I can to get the show finished. I always cut it a little fine and tap the sticky paintings with a finger, willing them to dry. Then comes a point of no return, where I can only watch the paintings drying and wait for the shipping day. Here I think about titles.

DHL can ask to do a security check in front of me, which I dread because I am an anxious packer and unpacker of paintings. But they don’t this time. It’s always the same DHL person and I think seeing me cut my finger with the Stanley knife when opening the package last time must have put her off the security check. I wonder what they are looking for and what she would do if she found it. Shipping takes about eight days. I follow the paintings around the world with online tracking.

Back in the studio I am left with stretcher bar skeletons. Stuck in a loop of familiar scales, I start again.

Decadence, dolls and details

I am a fan of artist Eleanor Crook’s classes available online through Morbid Anatomy, a New York based museum. Last year I took her ‘Decadent Salon,’ which included a hefty reading list of Decadent novels and poetry, in-depth studies of painters such as Gustav Klimt and Gustave Moreau, as well as drawing prompts, music and weekly cocktail suggestions. Some of this thinking made its way into the studio and perhaps onto the canvas. The doll figure in the show embraces the disembodied theatricality I found in some of the texts and could be a product of the permissive mood of the course, which encouraged us to follow the imagination to some uncomfortable places. Detail and overpainting in many of the works took on feelings of anxiety and excess which I associate with Decadent art.

Looking forward

I will send some paintings to McLeavey Gallery later this year. The canvases, started but far from finished, are painted with a mix of watercolour and oil. Right now they are warm-toned, swirly and strange. A small, off-white, fragmented painting, influenced by Francis Picabia, is looking promising…

Milli Jannides TOL 2

Photo Credit

Photo by Victor Staaaf.

About the Author

Milli Jannides (b. 1986) graduated with a conjoint Bachelors degree in Fine Art and Literature from Elam School of Fine Arts, The University of Auckland in 2009. In 2010 she was a guest student in Peter Doig’s class at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, and in 2013 received a Masters in Painting from the Royal College of Art, London. An itinerant life has led her to various countries over the past decade, experiences which have fed into the paintings and exhibitions she has made in Aotearoa and abroad.

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