Walking into Reverie Gallery is like hiking on the trails above Lake Padden after an autumn rain, or strolling down to Clayton Beach on that first beautiful day of spring.
Jax Mildner’s abstract fluid paintings are inspired “absolutely by nature, 100 percent,” she says. Even her creative process is elemental. “It’s kind of like a science experiment. I work with acrylic paint, primarily on canvas, and then I play with the densities and viscosities of the different pigments.”
Some rise, some fall, and the water she uses affects each color differently, interacting with each other. She uses gravity and air to move the paint around. “It’s kind of like using all the elements,” she says, “to create pieces that are reminiscent of something natural.”
Mildner’s journey also began naturally and organically. Despite never having been to art school or undergone classical training, she’s always been creative. She began in ballet, dancing with the Honolulu State Ballet, as well as in New York City. However, it wasn’t for her.
“Ballet is really taxing on the body and the spirit, so I quit pretty early,” she says. When she returned to Bellingham, she felt a big creative void. “I had spent every waking minute practicing this art, and when that was gone, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I just had fun doodling, and then decided one day I felt like picking up a paintbrush.”
She’s been practicing and experimenting ever since.
Her process, in all its unpredictable and beautiful mystery, brings her the most joy. She starts with an idea and color in mind, and not much else. “A lot of these paintings are a real ride for me,” Mildner says. “ I just kind of go along with it. If it doesn’t work out, sometimes I have full meltdowns, and that’s really cathartic; if it does work out I feel really elated.”
Mildner’s work is natural in both its evocations as well as the way in which it arrives. “It’s a fun spiritual experience for me to just go through it and let things be in the moment and not fight it too much,” she says of the process. “It’s always a gentle reminder of how to live.”
Mildner began her career by first showing at coffee shops in Bellingham and working in various studios around town. What prompted the opening of the Reverie? “My art was getting bigger and bigger,” Mildner says with a laugh, “and I needed bigger and bigger walls.”
Within those walls, one can indeed become lost in reverie, which the Oxford dictionary defines as ‘a state of being pleasantly lost in one’s thoughts; a daydream.’ When the gallery is flooded with sun, Mildner’s paintings almost seem to dance under the gift of light.
Visitors to the Reverie quickly fall under the spell of Mildner’s vision. “Whenever somebody wanders in here and immediately reverts to childlike fascination, I’m reminded of why I do what I do,” she says.
And gallery rules that people may be accustomed to in bigger cities don’t apply here. “People like to get really close to my art, which is fun, because there are little details to look at. I love seeing when somebody starts from back here,” she says, gesturing to a far corner of the gallery, “and then they start focusing in and slowly walking closer and closer. There’s this stigma of not touching art, but I see people and they just can’t help themselves! I love that.”
That’s not the only way that Mildner and the Reverie are redefining what it means to be an artist in Bellingham. Her goal for the Reverie is to create a place that brings people together. “I wanted to have a lot of seating areas where people could sit and chat. I would love for people to use this space and make themselves at home.”
The inspiration behind this inclusive mindset came from Mildner’s own introduction into the Bellingham arts community. “People were a little less welcoming of a new young artist than they should have been,” she says. “But I’m trying to change that. Everyone has to start somewhere, and you shouldn’t have to fight tooth and nail for it.”
Mlilder doesn’t see any type of art as better than another. “If anyone is expressing themselves, then it’s valid. You shouldn’t have to have a degree attached.” And she backs up her belief with action; the Reverie has a featured artist wall where artists who have never had a show before, or who “just need a little help,” can show for Art Walk.
The Reverie is open every month for Art Walk, and every Saturday in December, where all displayed work will be 20 percent off. Mildner also puts out one of her larger paintings during Art Walk at a significant discount so that her vision and interpretation of the Pacific Northwest’s beauty can be accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford to buy art. After all, Mildner believes that art is best when shared.
“I know that I work in a style [fluid art] that a lot of people are doing and trying. If anyone has questions or wants to reach out, I’m so happy to guide anybody or give advice,” she says. “The more people doing it, the better!”