Conversations with artists: Miriam Lilje and Atelier Mimi

Atelier Mimi, a gallery and co-working artist space. (Photo: Atelier Mimi website)

Space is one of the most widely used conceptual terms in everyday life and language, and we are here with Miriam Lilje — teacher and founder of Atelier Mimi, a gallery and co-working space for artists — to discuss how she interacts and manipulates space physically and conceptually in her art, her life, and her work.

For anyone who doesn’t know about Atelier Mimi, tell our listeners about the impetus behind creating the gallery and co-working space.

Starting off with a studio gallery or teaching studio on Oak Street in the Riverbend a few years ago, 2012, I felt that the space was getting too small, and I wanted to expand and invite more artists, more colleagues to be involved. You know how sometimes the life of an artist can be a little lonely, despite the teaching? I wanted to have more interaction in my daily routine with other artists in order to have a creative exchange. 

I moved my studio about a year ago to Magazine Street, close to Jefferson Avenue. There is now a shared office, which I rent out to other artists, both visual and to musicians. There’s a fairly large gallery as well along with a lovely front porch. It’s a historic home, and it feels so good to be in there. 

As an artist, having a studio — no matter how large or small — is usually rather imperative. How have you seen your concept and understanding of “studio space” change with the work you create or the materials you use?

When I first started painting again, after taking a break to study for my art history degree, I needed to move to New Orleans. I found this beautiful, creative city to inspire me to make art again. At first, I worked out of my living room, but as I continued as an artist, I wanted to work larger. I started to paint on canvas, and with all the supplies that I needed, I could no longer fit comfortably in the apartment. 

When you have a project on the living room table, you have to remove the materials, and that becomes rather inconvenient every day. Having a studio space really helps me focus on the work. Without your home and your home life existing right next to your work, I find that I can focus more. 

What do you think you interact with that’s around you but you cannot physically see? 

I find that people’s energy can change a situation dramatically. I believe in some cross-pollination between the different mediums, different arts. Music. Visual arts. Poetry. [At Atelier Mimi],  we host different events there, catering to those different disciplines. We have classical musicians at the studio teaching the violin, having concert. I find that as something that’s not tactile but definitely influential. 

What other creatives bring into my life, I react very strongly to. It is incredibly helpful for creating art, and it can also be not helpful at all, so I am aware of those energies. 

I’m curious about the medium you use (oil, watercolor, and acrylic) and how they provide a different emotional reaction/experience that leads to preference. For instance, how do you know what to use for a watercolor. 

The most suitable medium for painting water, for example, would be watercolor. In my opinion. You can make a beautiful wash, and you can make the water on the paper create puddles. You add a dash of blue, and it will do it’s own thing — blend, merge, and meander on the paper. You can manipulate it only to a certain degree, so it’s very natural and free-flowing. That’s great fun. 

However, when I use acrylics or oil, which are much heavier in their consistency, then, yes, you can dilute them as well and pretend they are watercolors so you can create similar effects. It feels rich, buttery, and creamy, so you can get into the canvas and work deeper into the canvas. I find that I’m more intentional about the moves I make when I’m working with that medium. But, I work bigger, so imagine a big brush loaded with a lot of blue. That’s intense, just being physically presence in front of the work with so much color in front of you. 

When I work on a canvas of 50X50 inches, that’s very different. That’s a much larger area to cover than when I work on a small scale on a watercolor in my lap. One is the more independent, more subtle, and very delicate element — water and watercolors. On canvas when I work with oils, it’s much more tactile; it’s heavier; it’s more physical. It’s also a bit more aggressive at times. I sometimes get really nervous about it [laughing]. 

Miriam Lilje is exhibiting her new work at Atelier Mimi, and the exhibition has a gallery walk through on Saturday, February 1 from 3:00-4:00 PM. For full details as well as more information on Lilje, visit Atelier Mimi’s website




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