How Collaboration Begins



It was late summer, 2004, in Thessaloniki Greece. The Milans had been living and working at their studio in Kalamaria for the last few months. They were living in a 900 sq. foot flat 4 floors up with no elevator with 3 small children. The oldest was 5. Their studio floor was littered with countless attempts of sellable art and a multitude of failures. They had been trying to reach new levels and break into unknown creative territory only to exasperate in utter frustration. One summer afternoon while the artist couple sat talking in their studio sipping their frappe coffees while most of Greece enjoyed their siesta, is when the collaboration miracle happened. It was then that heaven had finally heard the cry of their hearts and answered in perfect ironic poetry.

John and Elli had wanted to work together on the same piece for years and tried collaborating many times. Each time ended in arguments and hideous attempts at art. They had also for many years wanted to be able to paint abstracts. They both tried many times and fell short of capturing this elusive language of color and form. The Milans had committed to a 6 month long adventure in Greece and had found themselves in unforeseen financial difficulty half way through their trip. They had three small children, a miniature refrigerator holding nothing but mustard, and a cupboard empty with only spices. They were in a desperate situation. They had been struggling creatively and it looked like all doors were shut. That summer afternoon their five year old girl, Dimitra, shuffled into their studio, and their whole career would change.

“Mommy can I paint?” she asked. Big brown eyes stared at the paint on her mother’s palette. Elli handed her paint over to her child and told her she could paint on top of any painting she saw on the floor. Dimitra chose a painting of a beach scene that had been deserted in mid process and left for dead in the painting graveyard that became their studio floor. She sat on the floor, her small body curled beneath her as she freely pushed paint around the surface transfixed on her task. The five year applied the paint with complete purpose and focus as if she were seeing through a door into a world beyond. After only 10 minutes Elli stopped her child and told her to stop painting. Both parents gazed at the painting in astonishment and excitement. Their daughter had created an abstract masterpiece!

Elli quickly photographed the painting and emailed it to a dealer in Canada the couple had been wanting to work with. This dealer had told the artists a few months before, that “He knew they were talented, he was just waiting for them to produce any work that was any good”. The message sent to the dealer along with the jpg of the five years old’s work read, “What do you think of the new work?”

The following day, John and Elli received an email from the dealer that he loved the new work and would buy 20 pieces similar right away. There was rejoicing and leaping hearts in the Milan’s flat that morning, until they wondered how they could reproduce the work. Elli thought she would copy Dimitra’s painting exactly until she understood the process and could replicate it. She worked at it all day and was unable to reproduce the painting. John decided to give it a try and reworked Elli’s piece. After some time Elli took it back and reworked it. The coupled passed the painting back and forth several times

until it looked about the same as Dimitra’s. They exhaled deeply and thought, “only 19 more paintings until they could fill their fridge”.

After about 8-10 paintings John and Elli had found a process that worked. They were not only collaborating seamlessly but also creating abstracts. Through their child they had walked through the door into this language of line, color, and form, and were able to paint those far away intangible expressions, those drum beats of heaven.

That afternoon changed the couple’s life and career. Their new work quickly spread throughout the united states and Europe in galleries, and collections. Since then the Milans have been in high demand and have explored many facets of this collaboration.



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