Lillian Minix uses the language of flowers
By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | October 26, 2016Lillian Minix isn't usually a political artist, but when Eric Drummond Smith contacted her about the "Cherry Bounce" exhibit at the William King Museum of Art, Abingdon, Virginia, she was intrigued.
"I'm not one to study politics the way Eric does, but the way he made the concept for "Cherry Bounce' seem so attainable for everyone is what pulled me to the show," she says.
Minix is a pyrography artist who uses the Victorian art of the language of flowers. She often uses an animal skull as her canvas.
"Pyrography is just a fancy word for wood burning. It literally means "fire-writing.' I don't use the term wood burning, because I don't always work on wood," she says.
Her work is meticulous and painstaking, and a piece can take up to 115 hours to complete. "Each stroke I use is made up of either very small dots (stippling) or very intricate lines."
She translates that intricacy into the language of flowers. "It's a Victorian code for sending secret messages via bouquets. I pick individual flowers and create my bouquets to represent a person, time or feeling. I study vintage botany notebooks and scientific floral drawings to get my interpretation fairly anatomically correct.
"I do all this with pyrography, because I feel as though it's very organic. Burning animal skulls seems so circular in nature. Bone is made of carbon, and when I burn it I'm using carbon to create art. It also mimics the circularity of life in that I'm recycling these deceased animals for another chance at a different kind of life. Then I'm also using these floral designs to describe something close to me and hold on to it even after it's gone. It's all a very Victorian mindset."
Minix has used her pyrography on skulls as small as rats and as large as horses to tell stories about people and their characters.
Her "Cherry Bounce" piece was inspired by James Madison. "Translating the inspiration proved challenging because pyrography on a ram skull doesn't really read presidential campaign of 1812.
"It was a challenge to take Eric's concept and mold it into my Victorian floriographic style, but that's the fun in a group show like this. You find out a lot of things about your work and yourself when someone gives you a prompt that is far off from your style."
She used allium, wax flower, wormwood and cherry blossoms to describe Madison and his presidency. "Wormwood represents the irritation of the Federalists that another Virginian was about to be elected president. Allium represents Madison's success, power, fame and passion for the American people. Cherry blossom represents the potential impermanence of America at the start of the War of 1812. Wax flowers stand for the susceptibility of America during the attack on Washington in 1814. These flowers, when read in order and with more context, tell a short story about Madison's presidency."
Minix says art and anything is always a conversation. "I think the relationship between art and politics is interesting and very necessary." That conversation provokes strategic minds into having an art-based conversation, and liberal minds into having political conversations.
"I know I'm part of the latter. I don't think the relationship between art and politics is strained, but I do think it can be a stretch. It was comforting knowing that other more liberal-minded artists went through a similar process in terms of restructuring our brains briefly, so we could grasp the "Cherry Bounce' concept and lay it into our work."
Minix is also a licensed taxidermist. She lives in Abingdon, with her husband Brett and their black lab, Rixey. Her artwork can be seen at http://lillianminixpyro.wixsite.com/lillianminixpyro.
Brett Marcus Cook joins "Cherry Bounce' exhibit
One of the inspiration pieces for Lillian Minix's "Cherry Bounce" artwork.
Lillian Minix's pyrography on ram skull artwork for the "Cherry Bounce" exhibit (photo by Sarah Laughland)