Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Art Space Talk: Michael Miller

I recently interviewed artist Michael Miller (Professor, Printmedia Department- School of the Art Institute of Chicago). His work can be found in the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago) as well as other collections throughout the world.

His work deals with group dynamics and the role of the individual within the group. In some instances, the point of view is from that of the participant, and in other situations; it's from the observer. Depicted are characterizations of individuals and groups in conflict, harmony and uncertainty. Consistent in all of the pieces are the struggles involved in human social survival.

Nano Stores In A Blink (a 24 page comic) contains two visual stories, which begin from either flip side of the cover. "Face 2 Face" unfolds as a series of opposing emotionally charged visages while "Flatman" presents a blocky man in suit and tie as he encounters graphic framing elements. By employing plays on Ben-Day dots and halftones in green and black inks, these crisp drawings resemble a bizarre take on the comic book style.

Q. When did you discover that art would be an important part of your adult life?

A. "The first time I realized that art would be n important part of my life, was when I made the commitment to be an art major in college. I was never, what I like to call, a natural artist.

While I always felt I was creative (inventing games primarily) when I was young, I never felt the need to make pictures or objects. One of the things that guided me to the world of art was in my art class in high school, I was able to do lettering charts, the fancier the better. When it was time to go to college, I had pretty much selected art as a major.

While in college, I discovered the art world, or at least the various categories of the art world. As examples, the differences of applied art and fine art as well as the role of art history, theory and criticism. Additionally, I was able, mostly through trial and error, to figure out what processes, materials and techniques I liked and disliked.

After four years of art classes I was in the position of trying to decide what to do after graduation. I had a degree to teach art in high school, and it was something I could see myself doing, at least for a while. I also applied to a couple of graduate schools.

I got accepted to Penn State and decided that graduate school was one way of prolonging my final decision as to what to do with my life. It also allowed me the time to concentrate on developing my technical skills and conceptual reasoning. After a semester in graduate school, I knew that art (making it, teaching it, and appreciating it) would always be a part of my adult life."
Q. How has society influenced your art?

A. "For the last 10 years, social behavior has always been the center of my work. Not national or international politics, but rather, the politics that exist between people; groups, authority- personal politics. What follows is a general statement from a show catalogue from a 2004.

'The work in this exhibition deals with group dynamics and the role of the individual within the group. In some instances, the point of view is from that of the participant, and in other situations; it’s from the observer. Depicted are characterizations of individuals and groups in conflict, harmony and uncertainty. Consistent in all of the pieces are the struggles involved in human social survival. Stylistically, the work refers to opinion and editorial cartoon conventions. This drawing approach is preferred because it is easily accessed. These drawings and prints, in addition to the general theme, grapple with issues of specificity, exaggeration and visual shorthand.'

My main references are German Expressionists prints and drawings, Saul Steinberg and many political cartoonists". In the two years since that was written, there have been some subtle changes, but for the most part, the statement still capsulate the role of the social critique in my work.

I work relatively fast. Recently my work has been relatively small or medium sized. I draw a lot, working with gouache, watercolor and pen and ink. I do a lot of problem solving on the computer and that speeds up my production significantly. I make a lot of work, editing out the ones that "don’t work".

I rarely abandon a piece because I don’t like the way it’s going. Sometimes the last five minutes of working can change a failure to a success. Even if it stays a failure, I manage to learn something from it. Also the struggles in one piece may help the next piece to be more effortless and successful."

Q. Has your art ever been published?

A. "Two summers ago I created an "artist’s book that was published and distributed by Sara Ranchouse Publishing. This "comic book" is called NANO- STORIES IN A BLINK and consists of two non-text narratives. One is called "Introducing Flatman" and the other is "Face to Face". I’ve also had several exhibition catalogues produced."

Q. What was your most important exhibition?

A. "My solo show at the Walsh Gallery in Chicago in 2005 was the most important, however, I always have to think that my next show, wherever it will be, will be my most important. The show at Walsh allowed me to show the work I wanted to show, and in the way I wanted to show it."

Q. Do you have any studio rituals?

A. "I don’t have any specific routine. I’ll work periodically during the course of the day. Maybe 2 or 3 hours, broken by other activities (going to the gym, answering emails, eating, etc.- then back to work again. If I’m working toward a deadline, I can focus for very long periods of uninterrupted work, but I do prefer to break it up."

Q. Do you have a degree?

A. "My undergraduate degree (B.S.) was in art education. I also have an M.A. degree in fine art. I received both degrees from liberal arts universities. Undergraduate school (East Carolina University) helped me narrow my artistic preferences and graduate school (Penn State) helped me understand my work, contextualize it, and be accountable for it. Also it helped me understand the role of competition in the world of art."

Q. Why did you choose the medium that you use?

A. "In my freshman and sophomore years I focused on graphic design. In my third and fourth years I concentrated on painting and drawing. In graduate school, most of it was devoted to painting. In the last semester of graduate school, I started doing prints, developing skills in etching and relief printing. Directly after graduate school, I got a teaching job at Middle Tennessee State University, teaching printmaking. This responsibility kept me in the print and drawing field until today. I do paint, but I consider my paintings as colorful drawings. They are much more graphic than they are painterly."

Q. Where can we see more of your art?

A. "I have several pieces at the Walsh Gallery in Chicago. I have an artist’s book at "Printed Matter" in New York and at Quimby’s in Chicago. Probably the best way to get an inkling of what I’m doing as an artist is to go to my website- The book "Nan0- Stories in a Blink", has it’s own website at"

Q. Are you represented by a gallery? Do you have any upcoming exhibits?

A. "The Walsh Gallery in Chicago represents me. That’s the only gallery right now. I am scheduled for an exhibit in 2008, but not exactly sure of the details."

Q. What can you tell our readers about the art scene in your area?

A. "I believe Chicago is wonderful for emerging artists. There are many new galleries that provide opportunities for group and solo shows without the demands of a retail gallery. Also, there are a number of galleries that are owned or administered by younger people. Additionally, there are a number of galleries that have been active since I moved to Chicago, almost 35 years ago. These are well-established credible galleries that have excellent reputations.

If I had any real gripe with the art scene in Chicago it’s that, for the most part, the collectors are limited in number, very timid and conservative. Also, while Chicago is a very wealthy city, the amount of art collecting is small compared to the size of the area."

Q. Discuss one of your pieces. What were you thinking when you created it?

A. ""Rumor Stream" (image above) is a drawing I did a few years ago. It deals with the flow of information, or rather, misinformation that often permeates any organization. The continuous line that joins face to face represents this flow. Also, the fact that forms has faces on both sides of the head represent speaking out of both sides of your mouth.
There is also a light pencil grid that provides a backdrop for this rumor stream. I see that as a metaphor for organization and structure, the context for many of these rumor opportunities.

The drawing is done on a translucent paper, where the ink lines and graphite is on one side and the color, done with color pencil, is on the other side. The thin paper represents the fragility of the content of the rumor."
I hope that you have enjoyed my interview with Michael Miller. Feel free to critique or discuss his work.
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin


Anonymous said...

wow, it's really awsome works!

Shaun Gamache said...

It is interesting how you represent the observer. I look at the spiritual aspect of observing the self. Echart Tolle talks about this in his book "The Power of Now".
We can set up multiple observer points for observing ourselves, even through time and space. Some might call this multiple personality disorder. I find that funny.
I like to call it split attentions. Women have been doing it for years. They call it multi-tasking. I wonder how many times one could split themsleves and percieve without loosing themsleves. For myself I have a hard time going beyond three. It would be like reading a book and listening to two conversations at the same time. Yet each of those is an 'observer' perspective.

Shaun Gamache