Evolving and breaking walls: 17-year-old art prodigy tells her story

Dimitra Milan opens an exhibit at the Grand Bohemian Gallery

Dimitra Milan grew up surrounded by art, but she says, as a child, she wanted to be anything but an artist.


“When I was little, I didn’t want to be an artist. Actually, that was the last thing I wanted to be,” Dimitra says.

Well, it turns out, we don’t always know what we want.

Now, Dimitra is a 17-year-old prodigy who paints eight to nine hours a day, five days a week. She has sold over $1 million worth of art around the globe, and, if you take her word for it, she’s just getting started.


Dimitra’s parents are both artists, and she grew up watching them work side by side.

“Both my parents work collaboratively on the same painting, and they’ve been painting for 20 years,” she says. “That’s how they make their living.”

However, it took Dimitra a while before she warmed up to her parents’ passion. But that doesn’t mean her parents’ influence wasn’t visible at a young age.

“She was artsy in different ways,” says John Milan, Dimitra’s father. “She would go around the house and make sculptures and put string along the walls and stack animals. Whatever she focused on was very artsy.”

Dimitra credits her transition to homeschooling in the eighth grade with allowing her the freedom and time to nurture her creativity.

“Once I started homeschooling I had all this free time. My parents opened an art school [the Milan Art Institute] around the same time on our property, and I just started taking these classes, and really got into it.”

But Dimitra still wasn’t sold on turning art into a career.

“Painting was kind of a hobby, and the more I did it the more I loved it,” she says.

That passion for art led Dimitra to new heights. She quickly outpaced other students her age, and older students at the institute began taking notice.

“All of the older students would come around and encourage her,” John says.

And that encouragement gave her determination.

Sensing this new-found drive, Dimitra’s mother, Elli Milan, encouraged her daughter to take a more advanced course at the Milan Art Institute — a portfolio course that was designed to groom students for careers in art — and she did.

The course helped Dimitra fine-tune her style and produce a collection of works that she was able to sell, propelling her into a career as an artist.

“I took this class just to see what would happen and see if it was something I wanted to do — see if I could find my voice. I took that class three times,” she says. “The first class I made a lot of houses — these house paintings that were really abstract — and I liked them and sold a lot of them. But I didn’t really feel like it was me, it was kind of like a stepping stone. So then I took the second class … and in that class something happened, and I just kept getting this image in my head of a girl with a crow on her shoulder, and I just really wanted to paint that. And my mom was telling me ‘Don’t paint that. If you paint a person it’s going to be too close to a portrait. And portraits are hard to sell, and you have to do them a certain way for it to work out.’ But I just really wanted to do it, so I did it, and it turned out to be one of the best paintings I ever made. And from that point on I thought ‘This is my voice.’”
Since finding her voice Dimitra has has become a sensation, garnering international praise.

She has found herself featured in Vogue, Seventeen and Cosmopolitan magazines, as well as numerous websites and smaller publications. That’s not bad considering most girls her age haven’t even graduated high school.


Dimitra has big plans for the future, but she knows that she can’t stagnate if she wishes to realize them.

“I think as an artist if you really push yourself you can never end. You have to constantly break your walls,” she says. “If you’re in a comfort zone you have to get out of that comfort zone. I’ve had to do that several times, and each time you’re breaking into something else. So I think the creativity just keeps going. I don’t think I’ll ever be like ‘Oh, I’ve arrived. I’ve tried everything.’ I think I’ll just keep going.”

Her father believes that her drive will keep her relevant.

“Through the tears and the hard times she’s stayed focused,” John says. “She’s so determined and so focused, so original and genuine. … She shares what’s on her heart and doesn’t hold back.”

When asked about the pros and cons of being young, Dimitra said that youthful vitality keeps her prolific but she knows that her voice will evolve as she ages.

“There are probably more pros than cons,” she says. “I’m painting a lot. … The more you create the more you’re breaking into new styles. I don’t think I’ll ever stay in the same thing, I’m going to evolve and change, but when you’re young I think it happens quicker.”

She adds that evolving too quickly can have a downside, though. Especially if you break with your audience’s expectations.

Dimitra stays self-aware, and knows not everyone is going to like her paintings.

“If they don’t like it, that’s not my problem,” she says. “I know my art’s good. I love it, and there are people who love it.”


Dimitra’s work caught the eye of Summer Hartley, director of St. Augustine’s Grand Bohemian Gallery.

Hartley was recently looking for a new artist and decided to call Dimitra’s agent. That phone call led to the artist flying to St. Augustine to open her show at the gallery.

Combining elements of surrealism and abstract expressionism, Hartley knows that Dimitra’s work isn’t your typical St. Augustine fare, but she’s taking a chance.

“I don’t know if I can sell it, but I think my clients need to see it,” Hartley says. “Even if they don’t buy it tomorrow, in 10 years they’re going to wish they did because they’re going to watch this girl develop, and her art is just going to get better and better.”

You can see Dimitra’s works by visiting the gallery between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday.


Dimitra Milan will be at the Grand Bohemian Gallery from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 27 and Saturday, Jan. 28, and from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 28.