Sunday, March 3, 2013

Three Looks at Greg Miller

Virginia Billeaud Anderson

In the catalog his gallery published for Greg Miller’s Over Time exhibition, gallerist Scott Peveto said the art’s visual references to mid-20th century America engender nostalgia for a past era colored by optimism. Nostalgia might indeed be the reason I viewed Miller’s art three times. Certainly it was pleasurable to be reminded of our rotary dial phone, and the bottles of orange soft drinks we pulled from the grocer’s chest-shaped refrigerator. In those days we opened bottles with the machine mounted opener or used the hand opener on a string. On my third visit to Peveto I scanned Miller’s art for ominous content. Surely there was something cynical and dark. There was none. Here are brief observations about the twelve paintings this California artist is showing in Houston until March 9.

Their sculptural quality and texture are unexpected. Aluminum forms part of the canvas structure, onto which Miller builds up elaborate layers of collage as ground for imagery, all immobilized by heavily applied clear epoxy. The work’s dimensionality and tactile incoherence is akin to stacked disarranged Sears Catalogue sheets, or highway billboards holding decades of advertising paper. Miller is easily recognized as an heir to Schwitters and early Cubist and Dada collage artists, and like them incorporates calligraphic markings as integral components. And in the vein of Rauschenberg and pop ancestors, chooses collage elements for narrative meaning. He is known for iconic references to Hollywood.

Greg Miller, Time, 2012, Acrylic, paper, epoxy coating on canvas aluminum panel, 48 x 60

Popsicles and antiquated space rockets have visual impact in a colorful cornball way, but it was the paintings’ women that captivated me. Aesthetically these goddesses are distant from contemporary emaciated bean poles. The collaged figure in Popsicle has those 1940s pointy breasts and an Ava Gardner-Jane Russell face. Play features a beautiful long haired nude posed from behind with arms crossed over barely detectible bosom, but modestly cropped just above the ass. This doll evokes Brigit Bardot’s eroticism, and possesses early Playboy era glass-clinking glamour. Struck by the image’s polished perfection, I asked Peveto’s Leigh Manley if I was looking at a photograph. I was not. To create his large black and white dames, Miller uses an airbrush.

Greg Miller, The Maltese Falcon, 2012, Acrylic, paper, epoxy coating on canvas aluminum panel, 60 x 40

Peveto’s exhibition catalog included an extremely informative interview by Peter Frank, whose questions elicited meaningful background material that revealed personal aspects of the art, and here I’m pulling Miller’s words from Peveto’s catalog, “the images that I paint of women usually are like old photographs from back then. That’s what I found in my dad’s old shoebox, all his World War II stuff like lighters and switchblades and old photographs of girls he met, and there were these flat black and white images and I thought, I’m going to paint this stuff. I’m going to include it in my art. I have to. And I decided to go back and repaint them with airbrush, to where the women look almost like photographs. They’re almost too perfect…I’m doing this for other reasons. For my Dad, and all those guys he served with. ..because all those guys died when they were nineteen or twenty. They never got to have a family, never got to come home.”

Greg Miller, Rocket, 2012 Acrylic, paper, epoxy coating on canvas aluminum panel 48 x 60 inches


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