Artist Charlie Milgrim Experiments With Craft and Form

The Alameda visual arts teacher brings playful and sober elements to her work.


Photo by Lance Yamamoto

The sculpture of Oakland resident Charlie Milgrim inhabits a curious presence. It’s certainly conceptual and sizable, too, like the artists she cites as her influences: Ann Hamilton, Marcel Duchamp, Rebecca Horn, Katharina Fritsch, and Anselm Kiefer.

Originally from New York City, Milgrim moved to Oakland in 1972 to attend California College of the Arts. As a visual arts teacher at Alameda High School for the past 25 years, Milgrim regularly puts together student work for exhibits at Rhythmix Cultural Works, where a recent show just concluded.

With a mix of playfulness and serious commitment to experimentation, craft, and form, Milgrim works on large installations from a collection of disparate elements. “I am an artist who is inspired by concepts and materials,” she said. “I keep odd things around that I may want to work with someday and would likely have a hard time finding again.”

One of her favorite explorations was a series of works with used motor oil that took over 15 years to develop. Milgrim also went through a long period of being inspired by the mundane bowling ball, sometimes suspended from tiny wires over people’s heads or used as metaphors for just about anything she could imagine. She still keeps a pallet of more than 300 in her studio.

But beyond bowling balls, she is equally interested in themes of political fallout, environmental and justice issues, and sometimes just the quirky beauty of place. A recent collection of drawings and sculpture on tarpaper form a series called Secret Fields explores electromagnetic radiation, for example.

Milgrim would like us to know something else: “I am passionate about what I do and secretly wish I could save the world through my art.”

Milgrim has been with artist-run gallery Mercury 20 in Oakland for 10 years and loves the experimental freedom and large-scale exhibition space it has afforded her work. She just finished up a solo show and group exhibition there and currently has photos and a collaborative installation up through May 5. She’s been working simultaneously on a photographic series about psychedelic, voyeuristic tourism while continuing a sculpture series called Insomnia with concrete-cast pillows, and — you guessed it — bowling balls.

For more information, visit her website at