Wardell Milan grew up in Knoxville Tennessee, where his parents provided a separate "studio space" at home and his teachers nurtured is artistic talent. As a teenager Milan turned his attention to photography, later earning a BFA in photography and painting at the Univeristy of Tennessee (2001). He was an artist in residence at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine (2003) before he earned an MFA at Yale University (2004). After graduate school Milan moved to New York where he exhibited in Frequency (2005) curated by Thelma Golden and Christine Y. Kim at The Studio Museum in Harlem, Greater New York (2005) curated by Klaus Biesenbach at MoMA PS1 and Log Cabin (2005) curated by Jeffrey Uslip at Artists Space. With his first show abroad, La Beaute de l'Enfer (2005) at Galerie Rodolphe Janssen in Brussels and his first solo gallery show at Taxter and Spengemann Gallery (2005) Milan was on his way to becoming an important emerging artist. Thus respected art critic for the The New York Times, Holland Cotter concluded, "Mr. Milan's work has plenty of finesse, but also feels flexible , on a growth curve an auspicious debut" (NYT, December 16, 2005).
With Black Alphabet (2006) at Zacheta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw, a solo show at Samson Projects in Boston, the two person show Wardell Milan & Kalup Linzy (2007) at Context Gallery, in Londonderry, Ireland and his studio residency Midnight's Daydream (2007) at The Studio Museum in Harlem, Milan gained more visibility and support. He was awarded The Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Biennial Award (2007). He installed solo exhibitions at public institutions: Franklin Art Works in Minneapolis (2008) and Clough-Hanson Gallery, Rhodes College, Memphis (2010), while being included in the group show Mixed Signals, The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh (2011). He was included in anthologies such as Yourself in the World: Selected Writings and Interviews, edited by Glenn Ligon, Scott Rothkopf (2011, Yale University Press) and Vitamin D2: New Perspectives in Drawing (2013, Phaidon Press), and received grants from Art Matters (2011) and Foundation for Contemporary Arts (2014). In 2017 Milan was invited to particpate as an Arts-In-Residence at The Rauschenberg Residency and awarded by the University of Tennessee, The African American Trail Blazer Award.
Most recently Wardell Milan has been exhibiting selections from ongoing bodies of work on paper and photography such as Kingdom or Exile: Parisian Landscapes (2013), at Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, and (Show Untitled) Parisian Landscapes (2014), curated by Isolde Brielmaier, at Osmos Address, New York, and The Charming Hour (2015) at David Nolan Gallery, where he is represented in New York .