As a film director draws up storyboards, Mia maps out her paintings on dotted sketchbooks. She scatters the pages with poetic phrases (‘Tasting blood’), rhetorical questions (‘What do I need to see?), small – setting the scenes before she moves onto canvas, her brushes like a clapperboard clicking everything into action. Mia spares introductions, too – each painting plummeting the viewer into territories that are seemingly familiar but yet wholly unfamiliar, a party with uninvited guests mingling sheepishly.
When planning a painting, there’s no end to where Mia will mine for inspiration: scouring books to find peculiar artefacts or artworks, watching countless surrealist horror, drama and fantasy films, or rummaging through her wide collection of rocks and tchotchkes. She goes to such length in search of moods to influence her paintings by ‘capturing a feeling’ as she calls it. In Fire, the protagonists’ red eyes are a similar hue to a silver frog mustard pot Mia found ; or, in Lounge, the gently rising smoke of a residual cigarette riffs off the one Sylvia von Harden bears in Otto Dix’s . As she combs through her ever growing catalogue, the concepts for her paintings often emerge fleetingly, each one representing a collaging from an array of sources, sometimes even depicting the artist herself – in Swallow, her hand clasps the apple, morphed to a figure she found from a black and white magazine. Although the context of the paintings seem disparate – a leather glove, a moth clasped to a jacket, an orange tree – they view as scenes from the same unfolding drama. Here in Through the Gate her episodes are no bigger than a book, mostly cast behind muddied tones of opaque and blanched paint, felicitously similar to the hues in Edward Hopper’s painting of a woman sitting in a .
You’ll notice that Mia’s subjects are often off-balance or posing awkwardly, introducing a sense of suspense or set of contradictions, and adding to the filmic quality, snapshots from a drama. The titular Through the Gate depicts a hand tightly gloved in leather: you can only guess what it’s about to do, its strident angles reminiscent of Agostino Pallavicini’s pose in Anthony van Dyck’s . In Glass with Marble, the marble rests perfectly, impossibly on the lip of a glass – the reds and flittering tinges of light similar to the tones in a Folmer Bonnen . She refers to the process as ‘animating’, bringing a new, heightened perspective to looking at images. This ‘perpetual charge’ allows her to constantly reinvent situations, merging centuries of influence into windows of drama. Mia doesn’t hold back: without lingering too long on composition she works directly onto canvas, using a range of small brushes. She prefers painting on a thin Italian cotton, the delicate weft of thread often visible behind the veils of paint. She mixes her paints with linseed and stand oils to make them gleam, and gives them the glow of a polished artefact dug from the deep.
We’re encouraged to piece together these transitory moments she augments, our minds naturally attempting to unfold the gaps Mia leaves open. The exhibitions title, Through the Gate also hints at this fuzziness – each painting a clue to a narrative she has the key for, but that we can witness by subtly peering through. They’re left ajar, and we peek at scenes which often strike a memory of our own. Her mother, for example, blissfully assumed Station was the painted extremities of her own father in the kitchen; Mia didn’t argue. As any gripping film flaunts suspicion, tension, beguilement and suspense, Mia’s exhibition does too. Only hers is never resolved – a long take that skips the denouement and the credits. And, in fact, never ends.
Mia Middleton is currently based in Sydney, Australia. Recent exhibitions include: Webway, Haydens Gallery, Melbourne (2021), Turnstiles Part 1 & 2, Ankles, Sydney (2021), Newer Landscapes, Lon Gallery, Melbourne (2021), Sundown, Darkzone NYC & Baitball, Polignano a Mare, Italy (2022), The Owners, Seoul Museum of Art Residency, Seoul, Korea (2020).