Working with painting, photography, video, assemblage and sculpture, American artist John Miller's practice is profoundly diverse. What ties his oeuvre together, however, is a concern with American society—particularly notions of class, consumerism and economics.Read More
Miller studied at California Institute of the Arts in the late 1970s, where Conceptualism and a critique of pop culture were prominent concerns. After graduating, Miller began making the works for which he would become well known; this series saw him repeatedly covering objects and paintings in thick layers of brown impasto—a shade that would develop into his signature and critic Peter Schjeldahl would term 'John Miller Brown'. With obvious fecal connotations, sculptures such as Untitled (1988) (a brown mound topped with a tiny house) and World Without End (1990) (a brown sphere pierced with hundreds of spikes) took on a dirty, bodily aesthetic Miller saw 'as a trademark no one wanted'.
At the same time, Miller was making and exhibiting highly realistic drawings of buildings and domestic spaces, rendered with a regard for tradition and attention to detail that appeared antithetical to his haphazard brown-encrusted works. Miller has continued to make such naturalistic drawings throughout his career, in recent years moving to life-size, detailed graphite street scenes and portraits of pedestrians. Such an interest in the ordinary is also reflected in his long-running project 'Middle of the Day' (1994–ongoing), for which the artist photographs city life between 12:00pm and 2:00pm; the beauty and banality of each image serves as a reminder of the magnificent tedium of the day-to-day.
Another important recurring motif in Miller's practice is the mannequin, which he has been presenting as sculpture with a wry sense of humour since 1989. In Echo and Narcissus (1990), a male and female mannequin wear brown clothes. The male gazes into a mirror and both pose awkwardly. Similarly, in My Friend (1989), a stiff-looking male mannequin stands in a chocolate-brown suit. In the 1992 work Now We're Big Potatoes, the fair and debonair young man(nequin) stands staunch with left hand on hip but right foot in a pile of feces.
Fecal matter is a recurring subject in Miller's artistic practice, as is gold. In addition to the brown tones for which he is best known, he also cloaks everyday objects in imitation gold leaf. Accordingly, gold phallic forms, architectural objects and household items arouse a primal attraction to metallic glimmer; the eye is drawn, magpie-like, to the glinting surfaces. However, upon closer inspection, the gold-covered objects appear cheap and even somewhat apocalyptic. Playing on authenticity and falsity, the works demonstrate Miller's ambivalence towards capitalism and the value of art in consumer culture.
Miller attended Rhode Island School of Design where he received his BFA in 1977. He also attended Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program in 1978, and then California Institute of the Arts, where he received his MFA in 1979 and studied alongside fellow artists Jim Shaw, Mike Kelley and Tony Oursler. Currently, he splits his time between Berlin and New York, where he is a Professor of Professional Practice in Art History at Barnard College.
Elliat Albrecht | Ocula | 2018
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