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Tire Iron 17: Michael Miller

Even the title is too good to be true. Like a sweaty, over-hearty handshake, Miller’s show has a faked exuberance covering desperation. Each painting is captioned with an effusive compliment in stiff, mechanical script. Leaden tracings of giant chrysanthemums, oranges and palm trees symbolize a tropical lushness they don’t feel. Miller simulates freehand painting with stiff, mechanical technique, replacing gaiety with forced gaiety.

Michael Miller, Dreamy, 2001, acrylic on canvas

Michael Miller’s are shopping-cart paintings; they start out empty; the artist strolls down the aisles picking out interesting bits and placing them in the basket. The cart can hold a few essentials or it can be loaded like the ark. The important decisions are 1. what to put in the cart, and 2. when to check out. His shopping list for this body of work runs something like this:

Michael Miller, Paradise, 2001, acrylic on canvas

stripes- red, white, blue
lines, blk.-narrow
swatches, taped
words, lg. script (effusively pleasant)
airbrush squiggles- assorted, faint
flowers & plants- big, heavy
scrubby ovals -red, yel., orange, pink, etc.

Miller’s typical paintings stack layer upon layer to create crowded palimpsests, but All Things Good is notably less claustrophobic. The extensive wall stripes only emphasize that there’s a lot of empty wall; within the paintings, there’s a lot of empty canvas. It’s as if Miller has stretched one of his typical compositions and has been forced into an unaccustomed lightness of touch.

Michael Miller, Go, 2001, acrylic on canvas

Artists always struggle with Glassell’s cavernous, art-unfriendly space. Recent one-person installations by Lisa Ludwig and Brian Portman included atypical, oversized installation works. It’s a losing battle. The most interesting part of Michael Miller’s All Things Good is that it takes advantage of the way the grim architecture makes every joyful gesture seem abject. Individual paintings are subordinated to the crazy network of red, white and blue stripes the artist has thrown up on every available wall in a frenzied desperation of space filling. Like the paintings themselves, Miller’s installation has a dutiful sense of halfhearted gaiety, like left over party decorations. Not since Joe Mancuso‘s cold concrete installation, has Glassell’s cold concrete interior been used as effectively.

All imges courtesy the artist and the Glassell School of Art.

Bill Davenport is an artist and writer and was one of the first contributors to Glasstire.

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