Michael Miller’s paintings behind the desk at Barry Whistler
Of the dozen artists in the current Barry Whistler Gallery show, Inaugural ’09, Michael Miller is the one that jumped out at me. His acrylic and collage paintings read like the fever-dream posters for a psychedelic pulp novel or B-movie. Miller is an associate professor and director of graduate studies in the art department of Texas A&M University-Commerce. Influenced by Pop art, his pieces in the Whistler exhibition combine words with colorful images of mushrooms and octopi. I asked him to explain.
Where would you say your work fits into art history? Pop? Collage?
Robert Irwin has an ongoing argument about where we are currently in art history. He thinks modernism is too young to be outmoded by post-modernism. He argues that because of its youth, modernism hasn’t been adequately tested in terms of success or failure and that contemporary art may still exist within this label of modernism. But I definitely consider myself influenced by, and a part of post-modernism, in terms of my approach to materials, subject matter and content. That being said, I don’t consider art history or labels in my day-to-day studio practice.
What inspires you to make art?
I’m most interested in transforming the ugly and the vulgar detritus of modern life into art. The sources of the content are from a variety of places, mostly media. Headlines and strange stories in the daily papers, the Target circular, television, the Internet, etc., are typical source strategies. In my show at Barry’s gallery (and in other recent work), the materials include fabric from the dollar-a-yard bin at Walmart. These fabrics are so unlovable that there is no question as to why they wound up in that bin. I collage these together as a deliberate affront to the standards of design — aiming for the aesthetic of homeless camps, not quilts. With these fabric collages in hand, the challenge begins –solving the problem of turning this lowly mess into paintings that are beautiful and articulate.
In each painting, there is a particular figure/ground relationship, a search for dynamic balance and most importantly, the clarity of space. As groups of paintings are often displayed in a grid, there is a cross-pollination between the composition, text and images of the individual pieces.
Why mushrooms and octopi?
The subject matter has evolved over time. Previously my sources included flowers, trees and birds. I chose these subjects not for what they were, but for their gestures. I am more interested in what these subjects were doing, and how that relates to human actions or expressions. Later, subjects included the mushrooms and octopi. The mushrooms came in, at least in part, with my memory of the tacky decor of kitchens in the 1970s, but they were chosen for their particular gesture. I keep a file of hundreds of images from many sources, organized in around 20 different categories: earth and sky, sea creatures, mammals, graphics, etc. I save each image because of its gestural appeal.
Inaugural ’09 runs through Feb. 28.