Continuing through March 4, 2017
These large densely constructed and masterfully wrought collage paintings, or painterly collages, all acrylic, collage paper and resin on panel surfaces further Greg Miller’s well-known practice of combining popular imagery and gestural fine art allusions into dramatic and provocatively playful pieces. While inviting the close inspection of their copious parts, each piece unifies into graceful, fully-integrated autonomous images when viewed at some distance.
Many of the works in the show spring from the artist’s childhood memories of family road trips taken from his Northern California home, often to explore the streets and abandoned buildings of dilapidated ghosts towns. Motion swirls in multiple directions in these works, producing an overlapping and interlaced narrative energy, analogous to the stream of image associations we make driving down a highway. The eye disjointedly glimpses portions of colorful billboards, the letters on the sides of speeding trailer trucks, the jigsaw pieces of the unfolding landscape on either side of the road.
“Dots” serves as a good example of this effect. In it, the head of a femme fatale (a pervasive motif in this series) gazes at us with half lidded sultry eyes and a ghostly countenance from the top part of this horizontally bifurcated image. A shower of painterly drips smears a field of black inky blotches, out of which the woman’s head rises as if in relief. It’s a visual river that flows the eye downward into the lower panel. Against a color field of mustard yellow the brand name “D-O-T-S” crowns a row of the nipple-like green and red candies that elevate like mountains from an empty cocktail glass.
Miller’s cavalcade of nostalgic pop imagery and ephemera in “Dots” — as in all of the work in the show — is composed of fragmented photos of varying sizes and density presenting us with what Stuart Davis referred to in his own work as “sequential centers of perception.” Certainly part of the pleasure of viewing these works lies in the manner in which they encourage us to wander serendipitously through them in search of clever images and/or phrases that will help unlock fresh meanings.
The erotic and the romantic get a nostalgic assist in “Whiskey A GoGo.” Born in 1951, this child of the ‘60s and rock music fan offers viewers an eponymous cruise down Sunset Boulevard’s memory lane. Miller paints the name of the iconic rock and roll venue in the club’s now well-known font, then positions it above another archetype of L.A. typography, the “HOLLYWOOD” letters of the landmark sign. A airbrushed image of a Marilyn Monroe clone lifts her arm (and exposes a breast) in a Dionysian gesture of sexual ecstasy. Here as throughout his body of work the artist constructs the composition from the scraps and torn pages of a huge stash of magazine, pulp fiction and dime store novels.
In “Love” Miller offers a spiritual solution to the ubiquitous consumerism and commercialism that bombards daily life. In it a frenzied background is glued together from hundreds of Life (and other) magazine covers and pages as well as from colorful advertising flyers. This mat snuggles up against the central image of a large sky blue circle. The image is both a mandala and a visual pun; it suggests the need for a balancing spiritual energy to counter the mania of the contemporary world, while answering “Love” to the question of what could possibly hold this increasingly intensifying mess together. In a time of scary divisiveness, this unifying force and message arrives not a moment too soon.