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Miller's work inspired by 'everyday' culture

By Sara de la Rosa
On January 28, 2011

Part of a 51-piece collection of paintings by artist and art professor Michael Miller is on display at the University Gallery until Feb. 18.

The collection, entitled "Today I Am Thankful For All I Have," provides a multicolored illustration of history and modern society from the artist's perspective.

"My inspiration comes from everyday life, from reading the newspaper," Miller said. "A lot of these phrases or images or people come directly out of the paper. I like those little things that fascinate me or bug me or make me laugh or cry."

Head of the Art Department Joseph Daun said that the "meat" of Miller's work is cultural observations.

"There are a lot of comments about painting and the history of painting in his work, but there are also comments on contemporary society," Daun said. "I think that's what makes his work topical, and makes it so that even if the viewers don't agree with the viewpoint, it's still a point of discussion."

The paintings are a combination of low-quality fabrics and acrylic paints, which Miller uses to give the works a "homeless encampment" vibe.

"The punch line is that it's fabric from the dollar-a-yard bin at Wal-Mart, fabric so unlovable that no one else wanted it," Miller said. "The ugliest underbelly of America, I want that to start with. I can unify the fabrics and hopefully make them beautiful, or what I or those who share my sense of humor would consider beautiful."

Miller said he considers all 51 pieces of the work as one object, and he insists on having it shown as a single piece at least once.

"This is one piece divided into individual compositions," Miller said. "When they're in my studio, they never move from where they started out, so as I'm painting this particular color over here, I'm aware of that particular color over there. It depends on the amount, the scale, the proportion of this color as it relates to that color over there, because it is one big, unified, singular object."

One of the individual pieces, "A Poem for Squeaky," features Godzilla, a hand grenade and the words "Squeaky Fromme is Free to Roam," a reference to Lynette Fromme, a Charles Manson follower.

"I painted the Godzilla image the day before, and then I opened the newspaper and it said that she had been released from federal prison," Miller said. "So I thought, I'll write her a poem. Then I included the hand grenade to remind everyone that she's a monster."

The exhibition will allow Miller's work to be exposed to some people who have never seen it and, according to junior painting major Kenneth Scarberry, will serve as an example of the depth and creativity that Miller expects from his students.

"To get to see his work in gallery exhibitions is a really big step for all of his painting major students because part of seeing is doing, and part of doing is seeing," Scarberry said. "If you want to make art, you have to be able to see art. I think it's a really great step in the right direction. I wish that a lot of professors on campus, like writing professors and speech professors, would let us see them do that actual trade so that we could have some kind of idea as to what it is they're looking for."

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