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Misery - Tanja McMillan - wearing bum hugger briefs

Misery - Tanja McMillan

The inspiration for the Great Full artwork came from my backyard garden. I really love the storytelling in Japanese art and how there's life in everything. I think this is something that always comes through with my art as well: a rock will have a face and everything is personalised. The Great Full artwork is a little bit of that - a magical Zen garden.

Meet the Designer Part 1: Misery - Tanja McMillian

Photography and video by Stephen Tilley Video edit by Jacket Productions


Meet the Designer Part 2: How Misery – Tanja McMillian – is Great Full

On living in New Zealand…

I spent the first 12 years of my life in Brisbane, Australia. When my parents split up, my mum brought my sister and me here for a holiday to connect with our New Zealand family and we ended up staying. I spent my teenage years living in Muriwai – I’ve got quite a connection to West Coast.

 On how school helped encouraged independence…

My mum found an alternative school in Mount Eden - Brooklyn Metropolitan College. Sure, you had core subjects, but you could really excel in what you were interested in  and focused on. I pretty much lived in the art room there. And that's where I met lots of my friends who I'm still friends with today. It was a special place, but different for me as a 13-year-old suburban Australian kid. It was pretty wild - punks everywhere with mohawks and lots of goths. And you were allowed to smoke cigarettes. I was like, "Oh my gosh! Where am I? What's Mum done to me?" But, yeah, I loved it. It was the perfect spot for me and I'm so glad I went there.

On someone significant…

When I left school, I studied photography for a year in Brisbane but I constantly made a lot of illustrations, and I knew Marty and Steve who ran Illicit Clothing. Martin was quite an amazing mentor for me, encouraging me to keep painting and drawing. He was probably the first person I really looked up to. It was like, "OK, that's what he said. I better go do that. That means something." I began doing some artwork for them, for their t-shirt line. And that was quite cool because I was living in Australia, and then when I came back here, everyone was sort of wearing these t-shirts and I was like, "Wow, that's cool. People like my work."

As part of her practice, Tanja McMillan regularly draws in her sketch book.

On why being creative is important…

I think when you grow up and become an adult, it’s easy to forget that it’s important to be playful and have fun and have a sense of just being wild – losing the reality of all the bills and all the things that you've got to do in everyday life. Making art is a place where you can lose yourself creatively.

On a discipline that’s moved me forward…

Since I was a kid I've always drawn and carried a sketchbook or some crayons with me. And I love that because it's really free and you're not doing it for any particular thing or reason. So, I quite often will refer back to sketch books I've worked on a year ago and go, "That was a cool idea... that is what I need [in] my painting right now."  

On working through a creative block…

Usually when I have a creative block, it's because I'm thinking too much about what I'm trying to achieve. So doing exercise, going for a walk somewhere or doing yoga, or just doing something else that's creative, but not making a picture [helps]. I love cooking. I love gardening or just playing with the girls and making stuff out of Play-Doh. That's what's been really cool about being a mum: you do all the stuff that you did in kindergarten that's actually so much fun and you get so a lot of cool ideas from it.

On other inspiring artists …

I listen to music all the time while I work or at home. A favourite to listen to while I paint is Bjork. I remember watching a video of her when I was maybe 10 or 11 years old. She sort of seemed like this superhuman just the way she performed. I've loved her since then. I love her videos. She's such an artist in her music and [in] the way she puts her videos together – so cool.