September 6, 2010

Studio Visit: Matthew Miller and the Drama of Subtlety

Contributed by Guest Blogger JONATHAN STEVENSON

A corner in Matthew Miller's Bushwick studio.

Miller's collection of well-worn brushes.

Reading material:  Frank Stella's Working Space, Wyndham Lewis Portraits, and a book about Phillip Guston's late work. 

Matthew Miller self-portrait (no information available).

Last December, Sharon Butler wrote in The Brooklyn Rail about figurative painter Matthew Miller’s “quietly compelling” portraits and the deft incorporation of existential, emotional, and provincial content into his work. I knew Miller and was broadly familiar with his work, having seen his remarkable pencil drawings at Pocket Utopia and perused a few images of his paintings online. After reading Butler’s review, I was eager to see more of his work in person, so I visited Miller’s small, immaculate Bushwick studio a couple of weeks ago.

Unsurprisingly, given the evident meticulousness of his paintings, Miller works slowly and deliberately, and may return to a single painting again and again over the course of several months to perfect a single crucial line. Enthralling results reward the painstaking effort. Miller’s work exudes what I would call the drama of subtlety. In two small self-portraits, for example, visually minuscule divergences – the adjustment of an angle here, a brushstroke there – yield alter-egos in quite stark opposition: one vulnerable and probably gentle, the other impervious and latently threatening. As with his previous work, the depthlessly opaque background in these paintings serves to focus the viewer all the more tightly on the figures themselves and to anchor their qualities in space and time.

Work-in-progress depicting women suggests a more expansive and speculative vision that is just as intensely intriguing as the introverted one reflected in the male figures. In Matthew Miller’s art, whether he looks inward or outward, both heart and precision flourish.

1 comments:

Yet another compelling and provocative example of contemporary figurative painting. The human visage continues to provide fertile ground for us painters.