A glance at Miller’s “bewilderinger” exhibition invite reveals an unfinished work (in this case the head of a bird of prey) of apparent traditional draftsmanship. Thinking generally, it made me recall the non finito of Renaissance artists, or the framing of Classical fragments by Romantics. Yet, to be a non finito implies an unfinished wholeness of conception before the artist’s consciousness guiding his or her efforts, be it the actual subject matter before him or her (i.e. drawing from a live model) or from some other source of inspiration (memory, imagination, techniques of proportion, etc.). This wholeness informs the fragment, both from the artist’s perspective as well as that of the viewer.

Miller’s subject matter is taken from a photo (itself a referent to something). The photo, then, serves as the origin of the wholeness of his fragments. A photo, though, refers to another wholeness–that which it reproduced–hence placing Miller’s drawing twice removed from the original (this is Plato’s critique of mimesis). In summary, I feel that Miller’s work reveals a process in which he begins by reproducing (rather finely) a photo that has inspired him (in an email he informed me that they are “sourced from old books, newspapers, and personal photos “), but then, intuiting that this process can only lead to a reproduction devoid of a connection with the original wholeness of the subject matter, stops.

To be successful, the non finito should encourage the viewer to fill-in what has not been done. This is familiar ground. However, many of Miller’s drawings do not offer an enigmatic invitation to do so. I believe this is, quite simply, because they were not born from his imagination, but from reproductions.

Nevertheless, the creativity of this artist emerges in how he manipulates his imagery and his compositions. It is here that Miller’s work drew me in. If we take, for example, his Disambiguation (2012) it is a partially reproduced face of a Boston Terrier (or Pug?). It leaves a viewer like myself uninterested very quickly. On the other hand, a work like We logically repeat our befuddlement (2012) features the fragment of the parakeet and, below it, sketches of a hand. Here the arrangement, more than the treatment of the actual drawing process, is ambiguous and somewhat intriguing. The hand, or hands, may be simply a study of some hand made on the same sheet of paper, or perhaps it is part of an original whole in which the hand seems to provide a resting spot for the bird. The one interpretation relates the features of the painting to each other, the other interpretation does not. It makes for an enjoyable paradox. Note also the wash of the ocher/yellow hue.

Miller communicates in his statement precisely his fascination with composition. He writes, “I work in the same way that an author revises text, constructs sentences, edits words, deconstructs sentences, and rubs out ideas.” Yet, an author who writes texts is not a Medieval scribe reproducing something; he or she is creating from an original idea. I believe that Miller intuits that his drawing methodology somehow lacks vitality–too scribe-like or, you prefer, mechanical–and hence leaves it unfinished. Then, contemplating this unfinished work before him, he then ‘builds’ the composition into a more compelling collage. To the extent that this second step exists in his work, it is successful; to the extent that it does not, there is something missing–his passion is mediated, even lifeless–more than what is obviously implied by the partial draftsmanship.

– A.C. Frabetti

“bewilderinger” by Douglas Miller at The Green Building Gallery, 732 East Market Street, Louisville, Kentucky 40202 . August 3rd – September 13th, 2012.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *