Adrian Milton is one of those rare individuals who seems almost magically to be at the center of history in the making. Driven by an insatiable curiosity and a love of visual beauty and intellectual stimulation, he has traveled far and wide to see, partake, and create. The result is a life that reads like an adventure novel and a body of work rich in layers of sources and meaning.
As a child Milton created puppet stages out of embellished cardboard boxes. At age 15, he sold his earliest paintings, which were inspired by Cubist artworks, by going door to door with a portfolio to offices of lawyers and relators in his home town of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Also in his teenage years he decorated his family’s backyard with “monuments” he had made of stone, found objects and wood pieces such as driftwood.
Naturally, he struck out for New York City as soon as he had graduated from high school. Arriving in 1959 at the age of 17, he immediately found the playground he always yearned for. Studying Art History at Columbia University opened up the rich visual pageant of past centuries. Thus began a career in painting, performance, writing, film and other media, always with a knack for predicting the future zeitgeist.
After an unfortunate encounter with a mob boss in 1967, Milton had to flee the country. This gave him an opportunity to explore Europe and North Africa. Returning to Manhattan in 1969, he joined Andy Warhol’s extended entourage, even appearing in one of the Pop artist’s films (4 Star). Milton created theater sets and assisted other artists, such as Betty Thompson, whose work is collected by major museums.
Milton’s extensive travel off the beaten path has informed his artwork. He studied Tantric art in India (1970). He absorbed the vibrant palette of Central America and Mexico, seeing firsthand natural wonders such as a volcanic eruption 15,000 feet high (1973).
Hearing about San Francisco’s Summer of Love, Milton was naturally drawn to the epicenter of the hippie movement. Not only did he and several friends head West, but they started a circus in San Francisco, painting used mail trucks to look like Gypsy wagons. After touring all of California, Milton settled back down in San Francisco and painted stage sets for the Angels of Light theatre group–fellow-travelers to the now-famous Cockettes performance troupe–all while continuing his own personal work, often portraits of fellow performers.
In the later 1970s, Milton returned again to Manhattan, creating murals and installation art in peoples’ homes. In a loft, he recreated an Egyptian temple, and in a duplex apartment he painted a Moroccan-style frieze in every room. In Brooklyn he turned a concrete box into a Mexican hacienda. During the winter he spent time in Key West, where he designed hand-painted textiles for a clothing boutique’s collection. He exhibited landscape paintings at Key West’s Duval gallery.
Activism has always been a part of Milton’s work, though often not intentionally. He took over a garbage-strewn vacant lot near New York University and turned it into a public garden. This radical act was heralded in New York’s first dedicated Downtown newspaper, the Soho News, in an article titled “Paint as a Weapon.”
Milton immersed himself in the East Village art scene from its 1970s beginnings through its current incarnation, participating in a group shows.
Though primarily a painter, Milton has never limited himself to any particular medium. He has written several books, including The Bevledere, a history of Fire Island’s famous inn. As a director and producer, he made the feature-length documentary film Portrait of a Part-Time Lady about Minette, a notable 1950s drag queen. He has created collages from collected construction-site posters, and made murals from them for apartment-building lobbies.
Most recently Milton has focused on refining his neo-geometric abstract paintings, which embody influences from tantric art and the configuration and repetitions of patterns from a wide range of cultures.