|Margo Miller with one of her pieces dated April 1990.|
Now on view through December 9th is a wonderful exhibition of good old fashioned “art”. And what does that mean you ask? Well, in our local art scene (which encompasses Stark, Summit and bits and pieces of other counties), there are currently 4 shows, if not more, featuring works made from stuff. Assemblages, sculptures, collages, even crafty things currenty occupy many of our exhibition spaces. In stark contrast, Marge Miller has mounted an exhibition that shows only paintings and drawings in their truest form. Personally, I can relate to this type of thing because I know where she is coming from so to speak, literally as well as figuratively, as Margo and I were painting and drawing majors together back in late 70’s and early 80’s at the University of Akron, long before the fancy-schmancy buildings that house the current art department.
Sabbatical exhibitions are mounted after a professor takes a leave of absence to reconnect with their own inner muse as well as allowing them to reach out and explore what is going on elsewhere in the art world. Free from the pressures of teaching and administrating, the artist within is allowed to roam free once again. What made this show so fascinating to me was to explore it with knowledge of what her earlier works were like. But since only I know that, you get to walk through it with fresh eyes so come along….. oh wait, I should point out that she and I were out of touch for about 20 years so how her work evolved from point A (as in U of A) to point B (as in bifocals territory) is unknown to me.
The space itself is a wonderfully lit and a well laid out traditional exhibition space. Long white walls and a decent width allow pieces to be hung with plenty of breathing room. Upon entering the exhibit from the correct side, the lobby of the building itself, one will find a timeline of her process undertaken during the sabbatical semester. Where she worked, what she saw, what influenced different images and pursuits, and so forth, enhances the understanding of the different pieces and media found here. I learned a new word too, “trony” which is Dutch for an anonymous subject. As working professional artists, we are often faulted by those in the gallery biz if we have more than one media of focus, or a divergence of subjects, media, and or techniques, because supposedly that shows we are not “serious” artists…..to which I say, balderdash (because my other two words are not blog appropriate). Margo has tossed that notion out the window as well with her exhibit of oil landscapes, charcoal portraits, and oil portraits as well as a couple of other subjects included too. The “style” varies as much as anything but what “they” tend to forget is that underlying a true artist’s hand is a structure of technique, mark making and even pallet which cannot be avoided, disregarded or denied. This is the intangible “gift” of visual creators as well as athletes, musicians, actors and so forth, one either has “it” or they don’t.
Okay, enough philosophy, let’s look at some art! 16 canvases are in the main room along with a continuous loop video of her sketchbook, a must see for anyone who does not understand how ideas get to canvas. The nine 24 x 24 inch portraits show that much planning went into them before the brush hit the canvas and then “wham!”, she applies the paint in bold, direct, confident markings of color that are both logical and then completely unexpected. Square formats present a unique set of circumstances to a painter as far as composition and refinement of the markings in order to deal with the edges of the space allowed for the image. Traditional 1/3 placement goes out the window and the image becomes less about the portrait and more about the “picture” plane. These faces contain much more then the eye sees on a first viewing however. Though some stare directly at you, others bend away, necks stretched at equine angles….and here is where the early Margo meets the modern Margo….the signature pieces of her early career focused on horses rendered in aggressive strokes and swirls, whose markings are now echoed in the hair, bone structure and poses of these Tronies. Those which look back at us do so with eyes raised on the canvas and noses featured prominently, much the same as when one looks at the head of a horse from a normal human height. The ease at which she can paint a nostril is worth some study by every art student. The most difficult of the facial structures to depict with convincing reality, in this case, a few simple brush marks and careful color choices create the necessary depth, especially in “Scent”. Notice too how green is used throughout the series as highlights and shadow, as a substitute for white (“Great Teeth”) or to define a lip line (“Shades”) and to set off eyes as a contrast to reds (“Blue Eyes” and “Baby Face”) creating an almost uncanny glow to the paintings. Lips also play a prominent role in these images which may harken back to the days when her personal signature look was to wear bright hot pink lipstick.
In the larger oil landscapes, one will also find instinctive and characteristic markings that undeniably connect to her equine past as well. At trails end in several of the pieces, one can find negative spaces with horse-like shapes, seemingly ghosts from her own subconscious. In “River Road #2”, a face appears on a rock formation created from sunlight filtering through the trees and clearly by happenstance as I had to show the image to Margo so she would believe me. The abstract and aggressive “Sprawl” also contains such things which I will leave for the viewer to find.
Not to be overlooked in the front part of the gallery are 15 drawings beautifully mounted as simple sketchbook studies. These facial portrait sketches, some identified and some purely from within, are rendered in different charcoal techniques. From a light handed directional drawing to a more loose and humorous rendering, these studies are not to be passed by as mere appetizers for they are every bit as refined in concept as the more bold oil portraits mounted in the next room.
Margo Miller is the Director of the Crandall Art Gallery as well as an Associate Professor of Art at Mt. Union. www.mountunion.edu/crandall for hours and directions