Milly Thompson, Scuba Sauvage Poseidon, 2021 Ink, acrylic and gouache on vintage linen 150 x 100 cm Photo: Andy Keate
Milly Thompson, Scuba Sauvage Azure Bleu, 2021 Ink, acrylic and gouache on vintage linen 150 x 100 cm Photo: Andy Keate
Milly Thompson, Niche Definitions, 2021 Ink, acrylic and gouache on vintage linen 140 x 100 cm Photo: Andy Keate
Milly Thompson, Movements and Adaptations, 2021 Ink, acrylic and gouache on vintage linen 140 x 100 cm Photo: Andy Keate

Milly Thompson

with Wells Fray-Smith

‘I make paintings that focus on older women’s bodies from a joyful perspective, ignoring negative tropes of ageing, instead celebrating experience and the pleasures of being older, which are subtle, but tangible.’

I am Milly Thompson. I make paintings that focus on older women’s bodies, skin, and the skin’s perspective of pleasure. The women I paint are enjoying the ageing process. They see in their cellulite, age spots and greying hair a reflection of their experience, lives and life-skills. With their ageing bodies they are still active members of society, engaged in ritualistic practices of self-care, and body maintenance much like everyone else. The women I paint are still concerned with having a sense of themselves as people who are looked at in public. They are as much concerned with style, posing and being framed as anyone else.

I think of my female subjects through Ikebana, the art of Japanese flower arranging. Classic ikebana is defined by a series of rules based in Zen Buddhism, which include ideas such as structure, balance, harmony, line and form and the acceptance of change.

What are you showing in The London Open 2022?

I’m showing four related paintings, two featuring ikebana – Niche Definitions and Movements and Adaptations – alongside two of older women in bikinis, Scuba Sauvage Poseidon, and Scuba Sauvage Azure Bleu, in which the women are active, posing, glamourous and framed by the edges of the paintings they inhabit.

To a certain extent my work is about control. I enjoy the idea of off-setting looking good on a beach for instance, with the ritual of gazing at a simple display of one camelia flower, or drying gourd positioned in a vase in an alcove. Ritual and position become everything. Ikebana tends to present a minimal arrangement of plants which are to be looked at from one specific angle. Posing on a beach, or at a bus stop might include an element of thinking about how one looks good, and what the best angle might be to be seen from.

In all four paintings I make use of a range of emojis from which I am developing a personal lexicon of signs and repeatable marks for ageing skin. Emojis present a very one-dimensional language, designed to express emotions or reactions at speed and across language; I enjoy making use of  what is essentially the language of youth to describe ageing through the long winded process of painting.


Works in the exhibition: 
Movements and Adaptations, 2021
Ink, acrylic and gouache on vintage linen
140 x 100 cm

Niche Definitions, 2021
Ink, acrylic and gouache on vintage linen
140 x 100 cm

Scuba Sauvage Azure Bleu, 2021
Ink, acrylic and gouache on vintage linen
150 x 100 cm

Scuba Sauvage Poseidon, 2021
Ink, acrylic and gouache on vintage linen
150 x 100 cm

Milly Thompson (1964, London, UK)
1989 BA Fine Art, Slade School of Fine Art, University College London

Selected exhibitions: NEARWITCHES, Timespan, Helmsdale (solo) (2021); Still Same Sexy, Ruby Cruel, London (solo) (2020); Naming Rights at Thomas Dane, Thomas Dane Gallery, London (2017); Cougar, Westminster Waste, London (solo) (2016); BANK: Fax- Backs, 1990s room, Tate Britain, London (2014); Ritual Volcanic, OHIO Gallery, Glasgow (solo) (2013); Saucisson Chiffonaire, 18. Milly Thompson, 26 Nicholas Matranga, Eric D. Clark, Caribic Residency e.V, Lisbon (2011); Quixotic Sausage Scenario, Caribic Residency e.V, Hamburg (solo) (2010)

What makes London’s art scene so vibrant? What are the concerns of the next generation of artists? What insight does their work offer in challenging times?

This triennial exhibition showcases a cross-section of the most dynamic artistic talent from across the capital. Established in 1932, this much-celebrated open submission show features 46 London-based artists working across painting, sculpture, moving image, installation and performance.

Since the last London Open in 2018, the city has experienced the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, demonstrations demanding racial and climate justice, and widespread questioning of institutions and their structures.

The London Open 2022 traces the ways in which artists have witnessed and responded to these events with resilience and heart. In times of hardship and crisis, and when exhibitions were cancelled and moved online, these artists experimented with new sites of production and means of dissemination, from the kitchen table to the back garden.

The exhibition is loosely structured as a journey from the personal to the social, moving from individual to collective concerns, the cathartic to the poetic, the political and the environmental.

The artists were selected from over 2,600 entries by a panel of experts including collector Maria Bukhtoyarova, artist Shezad Dawood, curator and art historian Christine Eyene, gallerist Stephan Tanbin Sastrawidjaja, with Whitechapel Gallery curators Emily Butler, lnês Costa and Wells Fray-Smith.

Gallery 1, Downstairs

The relationship between our bodies and the material world kickstarts the exhibition. Rafał Zajko‘s wall-based reliefs appear like hybrid beings, processing the gluten found in wheat and barley flour, leaving us unsure if this is for machine or human consumption.Likewise, Madeleine Pledge‘s stretched fabrics and ceramic boots imply absent bodies and their physical role in manufacturing.

Materiality and belief systems intersect in Candida Powell-Williams’ handmade objects. A unicorn and swing inspired by medieval tapestries are fenced off by a trellis, prompting questions about the divisions between what is mythical and real. Alicia Reyes McNamara‘s paintings feature non-binary, shapeshifting figures drawn from various mythologies, from Meso-America to Ancient Egypt, to consider alternative notions of time and embodiment.

Gallery 9, Upstairs

This gallery features works that delve into the impact of technology, algorithms and quantification on our lives. In his series The Spectre of a World Which Could Be Free  2019, Ben Yau looks at the parallel rise of Neoliberalism and the CIA’s role in sabotaging the socialist government of Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973, bringing together both economic data and declassified documents.

Set in a parallel present reminiscent of sci-fi films such as Blade Runner 2049, The Underlying by Ami Clarke considers the implicit role of capitalism in environmental disaster.

Meanwhile, Rory Cahill and George Mackness offer a walk through a dystopian, corrupted digital landscape of the future, with an immersive soundtrack. They consider: what does a digital wasteland look like, what happens there and what is its afterlife?

Gallery 8, Upstairs

The artworks in this gallery reflect on family, identity and community. Seema Khalique travelled to Bangladesh to photograph two communities of transgender people called hijras. In this behind-the-scenes series, she questions the prejudices they face, revealing the economic hardships they endure alongside the strong network of mentorship and care they create.

Pioneering photographer, curator and writer Sunil Gupta took photographs of his neighbourhood on Walworth Road during lockdown. This work celebrates the increased relevance of our localities during the pandemic, as well as reflecting on the processes involved in created photographic images.

On three vintage TV monitors, Hussina Raja‘s short narrative films look at the subject of migration to the UK from post-Partition India, tracing the continued experiences of displacement and exploring nuanced notions of identity.

The works in the last part of the show focus on our relationship to and impact on the environment. In Agrilogistics (2022), Gerard Ortin Castellvi films in an automated greenhouse, in which the growth of tomatoes, tulips and chrysanthemums is controlled by cameras and sensors, in order to question the future of food production.

Having spent lockdown excavating her back garden, Maria Roy Deulofeu meticulously records each layer of soil like an archaeologist, collecting artefacts and ecofacts, before assembling a kiln to fire hand-thrown urns with the different layers of clay. The process is recorded in a video shown alongside the objects. Finally, a flock of parakeets cast in lead are scattered on the ground in Patrick Goddard‘s Blue Sky Thinking (2019).The parakeet exemplifies a non-native species increasingly common in London parks and hints at a mass extinction event, highlighting mankind’s role in the impending climate disaster.

See the full list of works here.

An illustrated catalogue is available to purchase from the bookshop.

Artists have generously made limited editions to coincide with the exhibition to support the Gallery’s education programme.