Wood Burning Artist Ushers in New Generation of Black Art in SD


By Edward Henderson

Pyrography is the art or technique of decorating wood or leather by burning a design on the surface with a heated metallic point. The art form is meticulous in nature and takes a steady hand coupled with a great deal of patience to execute correctly. Pyrographist Milan Finnie of possesses both of these traits, but she is also fueled by a spirit of tradition, culture and solidarity that make her unique. Finnie is channeling her talents into her business ‘Matter by Milan’ and the artist community at large to create a platform for herself and other young artists of color to leave their mark on Black History Month.

On Friday, February 17th from 7pm to 11pm at Studio M.I.F, Finnie is hosting an all-black party to celebrate the arts. Vendors, artists, poets and musicians will all come together to display and sell their work in a celebration of black history.

On Sunday, February 26th from 11am to 2pm, Finnie along with five other artists will also have their work displayed at the Moxie Theatre at San Diego State University. The theme of the pieces surrounds black icons and is represented through many different mediums. The display is running in conjunction with ‘The Blue Door’, a play about a black man discovering his roots though visits from the ghosts of his ancestors.

“There are black history events happening here, but we don’t know many that have a big party or display that highlights young black artists who have dedicated themselves to their craft and have work to display that features black icons,” said Finnie. “I plan to help create that.”

Finnie grew up in a household conducive to the arts. Her father worked at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park and the she was always into drawing, singing and anything that had to do with self-expression.

Her affinity for pyrography began her senior year at High Tech High. One of her teachers proposed the class decorate a wooden garden shed outside. When given a choice to use paint or a wood burning tool, Finnie jumped at the opportunity to use the potentially dangerous tool. Her work on the shed didn’t go unnoticed and during her exit interview at graduation, a teacher suggested she focus on pyrography as a career. She ignored the calling for a year, but everything changed during a trip to South America.

“I told myself if I wasn’t afraid of my dreams, I would follow my artist calling. I didn’t want to be a starving artist, but I decided to stop with the excuses and just do it. I was almost positive that something was going to happen for me as long as I followed my heart and tried my hardest.”

Upon her return, Finnie started producing work with the burning tool. The tool plugs into the wall like a curling iron, gets hot enough to where the tip glows, then she burns in the lines pre-drawn on the wood medium. Depending on the size of the medium, Finnie’s pieces can take up to 24 hours to compete.

In the beginning, she focused on bracelets and jewelry to generate income, but larger pieces were her true passion. One day Finnie stumbled upon a live art event at True North bar in North Park. She asked if she could participate and the manager agreed. Patrons enjoyed her work and Finnie became a regular on Tuesdays. She also displays at U-31 on Sundays and participated in city wide events like City Fest and December Nights.

Much of Finnie’s work features African symbols, sacred geometry, and positive body images of plus size women to show the beauty of their form.

“I want women to feel like they’re represented. I think that there is a lack of representation of curvy women being beautiful and not being promiscuous or that they’re not taking care of themselves. We all come from this place and because we have Africa in our blood, it’s in our spirits and in our minds. I try to implement these patterns because I’m very proud of the fact that we all come from this place. Even though we’re not there, it’s still within us and we’re still strong.”

To view more of Finnie’s work or to commission a piece for yourself, visit matterbymilan.com

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