Minna Gilligan – Kuwaii

Minna Gilligan

Artist — People of Kuwaii

We sat down and chatted to Minna Gilligan – the artist of our amazing “Arborescent” print in the first installment of People of Kuwaii. Minna’s work explores “fleeting, personal encounters with the past and present, and manifests in a tumultuous reconciliation of both” – aligning perfectly with the inspiration for our collection. Minna’s work takes root in 1960s and 70s psychedelica: and as a powerful and strong female artist we felt that Minna was the perfect person for us to collaborate with. Read more about Minna’s inspiration here.

How did you get where you are? Study – work – life – mentors – inspirations 

After I finished high school as the overly enthusiastic arty kid I went to the Victorian College of the Arts and studied painting. Art school is this incredible privilege and I definitely made it my mission to make the most of my time there. Art school allowed me open-ended time to focus on honing my practice, to experiment without real-world consequence and to forge important relationships.


During my time studying my degree in Fine Art, I was also developing a slightly more commercial illustration practice, which burgeoned with my employment at online magazine Rookie, based out of New York. This side of my practice exposed my work to a much wider, international audience, one that was not necessarily from a Fine Art background. I embraced this by sharing my work regularly on social media, and used the traction this exposure gave my practice to bolster my profile as an artist who also happens to do illustration, too. I think art should be accessible to anyone, without specific education – and this is why I enjoy that my work exists in galleries, but also online and in commercial settings.

Since graduating from the Victorian College of the Arts in 2012, I’ve undertaken a studio residency at Gertrude Contemporary, and gained representation as an artist at Daine Singer – a Melbourne-based gallery. Daine, the gallery director, has been a significant mentor and supporter of mine, particularly as I was starting out. I’ve done other things too, like publish books, write my blog, have exhibitions, take heaps of selfies and outfit photos (a favourite past-time of mine) and continuously/consistently produced work.

Being an artist is absolutely not glamorous, and I like to be upfront about this. I would love to be a full-time artist, and I admire anyone who can make it work – but the reality for me is that I need my part time jobs to pay my rent. I work part-time at Art Guide Australia, an art magazine, and I also teach drawing at Monash University. I honestly like my part-time jobs because they use different parts of my brain, and they give me the control and routine that I lack in my more creative pursuits. Also, when I am not working and I actually get time in the studio, I am absolutely raring to go to make the most of any time I get in there. Anyway, that’s a kind of convoluted summary of how I have navigated/continue to navigate my chosen career.

Minna Gilligan, Brass in Pocket, 2016, collage and acrylic on paper. Courtesy the artist and Daine Singer


Minna Gilligan, Brass in Pocket, 2016, collage and acrylic on paper.


How long have you been practising your art?

 I never know when to say I ‘started’ being an artist, but I guess I will count from first year art school which was 2009, which makes it 10 years this year.

How did you develop your unique style?

 I think the most important thing in developing your own style is to know what you like without influence of others. It took me hundreds of embarrassing works and until second/third year of Uni to get even close to the work I wanted to make. You have to feel it out, and get through the crap that you kind of have to make before you can reach a point that feels true to you, that feels right – that you can then build on.

For me, when I was younger, it was just important to be making – whether what I was making was good or not. Again, this is why art school was so positive for me. There is room and time to make mistakes. I always knew I enjoyed colour, that I enjoyed Op Shopping to source materials (imagery, fabric, etc) and these things eventually came together in a vaguely complimentary way.

Minna Gilligan, You’re beautiful, that’s for sure, 2016, collage and acrylic on paper. Courtesy the artist and Daine Singer

Minna Gilligan, Mystery to me, 2017, collage and acrylic on paper. Courtesy the artist and Daine Singer (left)


Minna Gilligan, Untitled Valentine’s Day, 2017, collage on paper. Courtesy the artist and Daine Singer (right)

Tell us about the Kuwaii x Minna Print, what was the process and how did the collab come about?

I love clothes and dressing and outfits. I’ve always wanted to do a print design. In the past, a few opportunities had presented themselves to me but the timing was never quite right. When Kristy emailed me with some awesome 1970s psychedelic print references, asking me to come up with something for Winter 2019, I was stoked because all the elements of it feeling ‘right’ were immediately there. Kuwaii is a brand with clothes I love to wear with a philosophy that I admire.

As inspiration for the print, Kristy spoke to me about women in her family and generations past. Her accompanying visual references were warm, comforting and misty.

In my own work, I reference an indistinct, rose-tinted nostalgia for times I never lived through like the 1960s and 1970s – fully aware that the reality of these decades was nowhere near as romantic as highly saturated photographs and retrospect. I wanted to work with this, my usual repartee – but to reference more-so what it is we take from our own personal histories and how we hark back or pay tribute them in contemporary circumstances. With a particular focus on women in my life, I thought about choices I’ve made or preferences I have that motivations have direct correlations with relations of mine that came before me.

My Mother is a florist. She used to work at the infamous Kevin O’Neill in South Yarra in the 1980s and 1990s. Sometimes when we were little my sisters and I would go and visit, and be hit in the face with that heady, heavy smell that florist stores have – odd combinations of all the scented flowers inhabiting the space. My memory of this smell is layered with Estee Lauder’s perfume Spellbound – my Mum’s signature scent at the time. It was this particular memory that threw me into making this print for Kuwaii. My Mum’s work was a wonderland, a swirling place of grit and glamour and dirty fingernails putting finishing touches on elaborate arrangements.

The background imagery for the print was sourced from a 1960s book on flower arranging. A conservative take on flower arranging at that. Neat little unmoving arrangements in kitschy vases. It was something my Nanna would have owned, meaning well, thinking wrongly that my Mum would like it. When I make a painting, I start on second hand fabric or imagery. It’s less intimidating than starting on a blank canvas, and I like working on top of an already loaded surface, concealing and revealing it through my painterly gestures.


The collage imagery that resides on top of the painterly background is a selection of roses, hand cut out from a rose grower’s catalogue my Mum gave me, and butterflies – a little reference to my own childhood filled with butterfly clips and 1990s-does-psychedelic-1960s Groove is in the heart aesthetic. Unlike my usual collage work, this piece does not have a traditional composition with a focal point. It was a different way of working for me, to make a repeating print, but this idea of infinity was very appealing to me, and reminded me of my lost love for Tumblr’s endless scrolling.

My favourite parts of making the print were working with Kristy on the colour palette, compiling inspiration references from my collection of old books, and going back and forth with Kristy so we could come up with the best possible outcome, and something that people would actually want to wear. Working collaboratively is something I don’t get to do very often, and this was a really positive experience for me.


Tips for female artists starting out?

My first tip is to not ever worry about being cool. I have never been cool because I am too enthusiastic, I try too hard, and I openly care. If you let being cool/accepted get in your way, you will close yourself off to a lot of people and opportunities.

Secondly, you have to be super tough. I am not tough but I try to be. If you put yourself out there creatively, you have to expect that not everyone will like what you do. Be able to brush irrelevant criticism off, but listen and take onboard the stuff you deem important.

Thirdly, work hard. To be an artist you actually have to produce stuff. Posting on Instagram doesn’t count as producing stuff. If you make a painting but you don’t post it online, did it even exist? YES. It did. Do another.

Sustainable life tips or thoughts? 

 I have been shopping second hand for over 10 years now. Most of my materials for my art practice are second hand, too. Books, fabrics, knick-knacks… I like that my practice is somewhat sustainable, and my artworks come into being off the back of things that already existed.

I used to wear entirely second-hand clothes, about 95% of my wardrobe came from Savers in Greensborough. Only recently have I started being able to buy more new clothing, which I consider a bit of a luxury. Shopping sustainably is important to me, so if I buy new, it will be a local label like Kuwaii (!), Dress Up or Lee Mathews. I also like select international labels – at the moment I really love Mara Hoffman and Rachel Comey. I do recommend a semi-regular purge – I do mine in the form of garage sales/market stalls.


Fave Kuwaii piece of the collection?

I can’t go past a jumpsuit. I LOVE the Borderline jumpsuit in the Minna x Kuwaii print. It is SO ME, and I was so keen when I saw the style name, because I am a HUGE Madonna fan and coupled with my print and a jumpsuit with flared sleeves… I can’t not!