Douglas Miller title
MFA Thesis Exhibition, University of Louisville
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2018 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
For years Douglas Miller has created drawings of exquisite texture and detail, drawings mostly of animals that contain immense respect for the natural world, but they are “unfinished” by design. Highly detailed and heartfelt animal portraits with marks that taper off into linear projections of the remainder of the form. It is not a lack of completeness, but of resolution, and it has become a trademark.
It is also a glimpse into Miller’s creative process both technically and thematically, and in his current exhibit, his thesis presentation for his MFA from Hite Art Institute at the University of Louisville, he extends this concept on several levels, striking a posture that is somewhat epic in its conception while communicating to the viewer on intimate terms. There are dozens of drawings on paper, some that echo previous work in their exactitude, but mostly what we encounter here is looser in the mark making, and there is a fascination with mechanical structures rendered with an eye for schematics. Each is pinned to the wall with no frames or practical physical infrastructure, and each wall as you move through the space left to right holds greater volumes of paper, so that our final encounters with the work feel as if Miller’s sketchbooks have fallen apart and spilled out onto the wall, and floor, before us.
The drawings, and one animation projected on a large, curved wall, are surrounded by marks and writing directly on the gallery walls that are directions about installation and placement. Some of this text seems straightforward dictates about moving a piece, but the whimsical, bemused quality of Miller’s voice becomes clear:
“Began as animal then was reminded that if this exhibit is saturated w/animal imagery this will appear as thematic. Therefore, this particular drawing should contain non-animal images. Text? Writing a long list of things that I do “
Or this, positioned in an empty space:
“(2) A drawing that has been omitted from this exhibit”
Miller seems to be pulling the viewer behind the scenes, except that the scenes are false, an absurdist metafiction that may or may not deliver actual insight into the artist’s thinking, but certainly, parody the intellectual underpinnings of Miller’s methods.
The ironic sensibility goes perhaps a step too far in a few instances. Annotations that explicitly identify permanent vents or windows, as if the artist’s hand encompassed the details of the pre-existing physical space can seem a little too precocious, even if they do serve to activate inert sections of the gallery. They also seem unnecessary, since Miller’s authority is never in question. The Cressman Center gallery is so thoroughly his playground that you wonder why there is not included some posted notice from university officials condemning the cheeky post-modern desecration of the pristine white walls.
The effort given to affecting a lack of resolution feels equal to what would be required to “finish” the work, but the unpolished quality, always a characteristic of Miller’s work but here allowed to progress (regress?) to heightened levels, is meant to communicate failure. The use of text establishes a literary context – the exhibit could easily be published as a book and conjures the unorthodox page aesthetics of paper-based literature pioneered by writers like Mark Z. Danielewski.
If the point of deconstructing format in this way is to force the viewer to look at the art differently, Miller succeeds. The insistent pulling of focus away from the marks on paper to the marks on the wall creates tension but also feels like a treasure hunt. Are there secrets to be discovered in the hand-written annotations? Is this a sort of Rosetta Stone for understanding what the artist is really up to here? When, near the end of the exhibit, we find the legend, “This is giving me tendonitis” written repeatedly as if a punishment given to a student, what is the revelation? Is Miller simply being clever, or is there a deeper meaning in the suggestion of self-imposed punitive measures?
Douglas Miller title
MFA Thesis Exhibition
April 27 – August 4, 2018
Cressman Center For Visual Arts
University of Louisville
100 East Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.