Talking with Glasstire Contributor Bucky Miller

by Leslie Moody Castro June 25, 2023

This is the third in a series of interviews with regular Glasstire contributors. Not only does it seem right to show off the talent behind this magazine (because really, our writers keep us going), but this series provides an opportunity for you, our readers, to learn more about our writers and their other endeavors. Because our writers are all doing many, many great things.

Bucky Miller in a pit

Bucky Miler

Bucky Miller has been a longtime friend and contributor of Glasstire. It’s always such a relief when a working relationship can bleed over to a friendship as well, and I’m grateful for the conversations and exchanges of ideas that Bucky and I have had over the course of the year of my tenure as Guest Editor. 

Bucky is full of ideas and embraces a challenge; learning more about his life, his projects, and his interests as a creative person has been a real pleasure. Thank you, Bucky, for your willingness to throw ideas around! 

Leslie Moody Castro (LMC): Where do you live currently and where are you from? 

Bucky Miller (BM): That’s complicated! Sometimes I live in Brooklyn, New York. There’s lots of work there, but it’s too expensive and there’s not enough space. So other times I’m in Austin, or somewhere in between. I’m originally from Phoenix, Arizona. 

LMC: What is your favorite book? Movie? Song? 

BM: It is hard to pick, but I often say my favorite book is Mrs. Caliban by Rachel Ingalls. It’s a short novel about a woman at home who falls in love with Larry, who is some sort of frog man. It is NOT the same as the movie The Shape of Water

It seems I listed my favorite movies on Letterboxd as Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, David Byrne’s True Stories, Olivier Assayas’s Irma Vep, and George P. Cosmatos’s Tombstone

For song, I’ll say “Looters’ Follies” by Destroyer, from the album Destroyer’s Rubies. “I swear somewhere the truth lies within this wood.” It’s a perfectly frustrated song.

LMC: Why are these some of your favorites? (Personally, I share respect for Tombstone!) What makes them memorable, or why are you drawn to them? To steal a horrible pop culture reference, “do they bring you joy,” and if so, why?

BM: It’s really really hard for me to be decisive about favorites. They change a lot because there is so much stuff I enjoy. Like, when I was really young I loved baseball, then I got older and started skateboarding and decided I couldn’t like baseball anymore because I didn’t wanna be a jock. Then later I went to art school and disowned skateboarding for a few years. Someone even told me not to mention skating when I talked about art! The sad thing is all those things are great, and now that I’m a bit older I am enjoying the permission I’ve given myself to like everything.

I mentioned Mrs. Caliban, but Charles Portis might be the guy I’m most into currently — his novels. The Dog of the South is so well crafted and one of the funniest things out there. A real deadpan, propellant humor. But I cherish all this stuff, maybe been inspired by it. It all makes me feel like myself, feel in the world in a meaningful way.

Take Tombstone. It’s a corny Hollywood movie, but it reminds me of back home. Val Kilmer is perfect at playing a type of person who doesn’t actually exist, not as a complete person, but that I’ve seen somehow shimmer into being as a temporary attitude in certain folks. It’s maybe a bad movie. It’s close to the exact opposite of Uncle Boonmee. But for me they’re both important works of fiction! I think I want to make a movie, but I don’t know where to begin.

Installation of photos in a room

Bucky Miller “Cookietown,” installation at Wraymour and Flanigan Crow’s Nest, Manhattan, 2023

LMC: What are you reading currently?

BM: Poems by Ron Padgett: Alone And Not Alone.

LMC: Was this a recommendation? If it was, who recommended it, and do they often recommend good things to you? Otherwise, where do you find your reading material? (Since the pandemic I’ve become a voracious reader again, and always take recommendations, but I also love getting recommendations from different voices — it keeps the reading material interesting!)

BM: My friend Elaine, who is a poet, thought I’d like Ron Padgett and she was right. Elaine’s book is good too. It’s called For Another Writing Back. But I had a conversation with Elaine recently where she said she didn’t want to mention that book in her professional bio. She wanted to talk about car washes instead! I don’t know why, but she should make poems out of the ‘why.’ For Another Writing Back is a great book.

With Padgett, I went to a bookstore that I don’t like very much and they had three of his books. I picked the one that I did because I was feeling lonely and because Pinocchio was on the cover. A Jim Dine Pinocchio. There are poems about art in the book, one of which I think I will make required reading if I ever teach another art class.

But yes, I love getting recommendations from friends. I am lucky to have a lot of weirdo readers in my life.

I’m also a bit compulsive with books. I like library sales, the ones where everything’s a dollar. I scavenge, I try stuff. If it doesn’t work out I can usually trade up at a used store. Library sales are low risk high reward. I actually might drive four hours this coming Tuesday to go to one where you can fill a shopping bag with books for one dollar.

LMC: What is your favorite thing to write about? 

BM: Hypothetically, baseball. In practice, I write a lot of poems about mud and uncles. I won’t ever show them to anyone. They’re therapy.

LMC: Why hypothetically? Why baseball? Personally, I would write about basketball and soccer.

BM: I haven’t ever written about baseball, I just think I’d like it. It feels complicated writing about art, because I also make art, and there’s no distance. Baseball has absolutely nothing to do with me, but I have loved it most of my life, so I think there would be some freedom in writing about it. Should we start an art-sports magazine?

LMC: How does your background and where you live now impact your writing/your way of looking at and thinking about art? 

BM: I grew up skateboarding in suburban Phoenix. Strip mall culture. I went to Taco Bell on 9/11. For years I wasn’t around art at all, except through skateboarding. Everything grew out of skateboarding and big open spaces. I admire the author Denis Johnson in part because of the way he wrote about Phoenix. It’s a highly specific, I think postmodern city. Like Las Vegas but less flashy, a little paranoid, and therefore much more compelling.

Photo of a lamb

“Lamb,” 2022

LMC: skateboarding and spaces? Tell us more…

BM: Skateboarding is so fun! There’s an immature, silly kind of transgression to it that translates nicely to making art. You can see and learn a lot in a parking lot.

LMC: Do you miss Arizona ever?

BM: Oh my god, every day that I’m not there. Saguaros are the most magnificent plants. The landscapes, the endless possibility to puncture the weird, nearly ineffable synthetic-psychic barriers that have been built up by realtors and home builders everywhere in Phoenix. Also and especially the food. Tucson has such wonderful, flavorful food. The best restaurant in the world is there — it’s called Tumerico. I’m in New York right now and the food is comparatively bullshit. I know that sounds silly, but this is my personal point of view.

LMC: Can you tell us a little about your artistic practice? 

BM: I make photographs, but I’m not too interested in documenting in a literal sense. Lately it has felt like, with everything I do, I am trying to dig up stranger possibilities for joy. I want there to be more animals than there are currently. When things are going very well, there are lots of animals.

LMC: Animals in your work or in the world in general?

BM: In the work. The world could always use more animals I guess, but in the work. When things are going poorly I just photograph like tables or bricks, soullessly, desperately. Then a dog shows up and I take a picture and it all feels better.

LMC: You’re cooking up a series for Glasstire soon, which involves revisiting older work. Can you tell us a little about it?

BM: Around 2014-16, I photographed inside a lot of museums. At that time I liked using some cameras that were on the high end of tourist-grade. Considering that, it seemed rational to start taking pictures like a tourist. So I went to museums, all varieties. Big ones, little ones. I tried to exclude anything didactic, and extract tiny slivers of visual information that could be reconfigured into new narratives. After a while I lost track of the tread, and I never did anything with the pictures. 

Now I’m finally going to put it all together. I will build my own museum in the form of a serial photo essay on Glasstire. I’m glad I’m coming back to these photos a decade later, because the stuff is dusty now. It’s like a real museum! Plus, I forget what most of the exhibits actually were, so now I have all these raw visuals that I can form into their own thing.

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