Exhibition commemorates work of graphic artist Robert Milliken

Rob Milliken, who died last May at just 45, was known to a good part of the York community as a consummate graphic artist who gave a public face to many University activities.

Between 1993 and 2002, as a freelance graphic artist, he designed most of the posters and brochures for the Faculty of Environmental Studies. His summer school posters, in particular, have been admired on bulletin boards and university offices on five continents. He designed book covers for York University authors and produced promotional material for the Urban Studies Program and the Political Science Department.

A retrospective of his work, entitled Urban Environments, opened this week in Room 354 Lumbers Building at York. The exhibition will run till Jan. 31. On display are most of Milliken’s graphic design projects for the University and additional photographic work that has not been shown previously.

There will be a celebration of his work at the formal opening of the exhibit on Monday, Jan.12 at 5:30pm. Everybody is welcome.

Born Robert Hugh Milliken on Jan. 31, 1958, in Regina, Sask., he moved away from home as a teenager, and instead of immediately entering university went to Quebec City, where he worked as a waiter and calèche driver. Later he studied fine arts at Concordia University in Montreal and then moved to New York to start a career as an artist. After a short time, he was forced to return to Canada when he learned he had suffered irreversible kidney damage.

“For the rest of his life, Rob lived with the incredible discipline necessary to keep himself alive,” his sister Judy recounted in a “Lives Lived” column in The Globe and Mail. “He received a kidney transplant in early 1988. Freed from dialysis for a few years, Rob worked both as a graphic artist and as a curator of showings for young artists.”

Although he loved Montreal, he settled in Toronto and became a student for a while in the MES program at York and then continued to work as a freelance graphic artist and Web site designer. He continued working even when his transplanted kidney failed in 1997 and he had to rely on peritoneal dialysis to live.

“Rob had an enlightened perspective on life and on people,” his sister Judy wrote. “He was one of those rare souls interested in establishing a genuine rapport with almost everyone he met. You never knew where Rob would make his next friend — the hospital, the movie lineup, the local coffee shop.”

His friend Roger Keil, professor in the Faculty of Environmental Studies, says Milliken’s annual seminar series’ posters for FES demonstrate the changing aesthetics of nature, culture and society during the past decade and show the emergence of a graphic artist’s portfolio. Keil curated the current exhibition together with his wife Ute Lehrer.

This article was prepared by FES External Relations.