In viewing Steve Miller’s recent works at Sara Nightingale Gallery in Water Mill, it is difficult to not be reminded of the ongoing debate on the relationship between science-based technology and its impact on the evolution of art and aesthetic creation.
A personal story that has relevance occurred when my father, the painter Jimmy Ernst, happened to be visiting the Soviet Union on a cultural exchange program in 1961 when Yuri Gagarin returned to earth after being the first human to successfully orbit the globe. At a celebratory banquet a Russian general turned to Jimmy and boastfully asked “Isn’t science amazing that it has now taken us into space?” to which my father replied, “its not that big a deal, artists have been there for decades.”
In the time since, of course, the impact of the development of digital media and its influence on the direction of works by artists worldwide has grown exponentially as has the discussion over whether this is a positive or negative development for art and creativity. On the one hand, even in the contemporary world, many artists respect Henry David Thoreau’s admonition that “Men have become tools of their tools” or, from another perspective, Pablo Picasso’s observation regarding technology when he stated that “computers are worthless. They can only give you answers.”
By contrast, however, one can look towards the attitudes of others such as sociologist and literary critic Lewis Mumford who observed that “to curb the machine and limit art to handicraft is a denial of opportunity” while Bauhaus artist Oskar Schlemmer saw technology in art as “an instinctive repudiation of chaos and a longing to find the form appropriate for our time.”
Having been one of the first artists to experiment with computer generated images in the 1980’s. it isn’t difficult to determine on which side of this cultural/technological divide Steve Miller comes down on. Long considered an important voice in the SciArt movement, his works at Sara Nightingale Gallery are derived from his recent series titled Health of the Planet, and feature emotively configured abstract works that juxtapose elegantly expressive applications of color and line with x-rays of various flora and fauna. Highlighting the duality of both positive and negative aspects wrought by technological development in Brazil and other developing countries, Miller effectively uses these mixed media techniques in balancing painterly and technical impulses to create highly orchestrated yet still spontaneous tableaus that are simultaneously visually energetic and quietly meditative.
In Conditions of the Flow (mixed media on canvas), For example, the black and white central image of x-rays of flowers placed towards the center of the canvas serves to stabilize the composition while thin washes of color that ebb and flow around the central image provide a graceful sensibility that is profoundly ethereal. These are balanced by energetically expressive calligraphic trails of silver paint that weave throughout the picture plane thereby completely obliterating the distinctions between the distinctions between foreground and background in the work while still creating a profound sense of depth.
By contrast, Banana Bonanza and Cidade Baixa (both inkjet, pigment dispersion and silkscreen on canvas) eschew a central focus within the composition and instead use x-ray images of flora to echo itself from the corners of the works while floating over delicate splashes of blue colorations.
This is also the compositional structure used in Swearing Softly (pigment dispersion, silkscreen, and inkjet on canvas) while Your Version, My Version (inkjet, enamel, and silkscreen on canvas) provides a more central configuration of the compositional structure as a cacophonous intermingling of linear elements dominates the grey panel that accentuates the impact of the x-rayed floral imagery.
Health of the Planet (carbon ink jet, enamel, and silkscreen on paper) is of particular interest for its relationship to the works the artist did based upon Nobel Prize winner in chemistry Rod Mackinnon that have been the foundation of much of his recent output over the past decade. As Michael Rush wrote in the catalog for Miller’s 2007 exhibit at Brandeis University titled Spiraling Inward, “if ‘collision’ is a proper word to describe the interactions of particles within the body, so, too, do Miller’s canvases reflect a collision of forms, gestures, methods, and materials.”
Also on exhibit at Sarah Nightingale Gallery is a recreation of the gallery’s booth at the 2016 Spring/Break Art Fair featuring entertaining and whimsically dark ceramic sculptures and Christian Little’s subtly erotic paintings that meld abstract impulses and Japanese erotic prints from the 18th century.
The exhibition continues at Sara Nightingale through April 30th.