About the Artist
Joe Miller is an established lifetime painter who has chosen to live and work in nature for more than four decades. His boldly rendered paintings bear the imprint of remembered land forms, rainwater and rivers, the slow accretion and erosion of rock. His sustained devotion to the alchemy of painting - a rectangle of wood and linen and pigment reborn as a breathing entity – is evident in this potent and lyrical body of work.
Born and raised in the mountains of the West, Joe Miller studied drawing and painting at the University of Notre Dame, earned a BFA at the University of Utah, and an MS in Art at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His work has been shown in galleries in the Mid-West, Southwest and Northwest. Two significant group shows he participated in were: Rediscovering the Landscape of the Americas: Paintings from Mexico, Canada, and U.S.A., which traveled to museums in all three countries after opening at The Gerald Peters Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico; and TheArtist as Native: Reinventing Regionalism, which opened at the Babcock Galleries (now the Driscoll Babcock Gallery in Chelsea) in New York and then traveled to Middlebury College Museum of Art, Vermont; Albany Institute of Art, Albany, New York; and the Owensboro Museum of Fine Art, Kentucky.
Joe Miller’s paintings are not pictorial representations of place, but rather bring forth the essence of place. In October 2012 Joe Miller returned to New York City with a one-man show of more than 30 recent paintings, as well as drawings and watercolors. With this show at the 25 CPW Gallery, Joe Miller, steeped in his own non-urban world, gave New Yorkers the chance to share his understanding of, and feeling for, his surroundings, whether they be the deserts and buttes of the American West or the forested landscapes of the Pacific Northwest. The spirit of his work comes from his daily immersion in the landscapes of his life, bringing an intimacy with nature that has only been possible by secluding himself from the "business of art" and choosing the plain and simple reality of living and painting.
The artist works in a variety of media, including oils, acrylics, watercolor, oil pastel, and India ink. His mastery of, and use of vibrant color, composition, and line, infuses his work with both complex and simple abstract geometries, clearly taking cues from nature yet distilling them to their fundamental forms. His ability to combine expressive color with elegant, minimal, confident lines creates dynamic compositions that evoke an aspect of the natural world.
The artist states, “I paint from my imagination because I prefer to paint with relatively free line, marks, shapes, and colors unrestrained from the brush and color demands of realism. These colors, shapes, marks, and lines are to me like musical instruments capable of producing a beauty in their relationships and controlled freedom of application.”
In addition to the exhibition, writer, filmmaker, and director Peter Flood (Walt Disney Studios, Miramax, National Geographic Films, and Universal Pictures) traveled with the artist while he transported the works for exhibition from his island on the west coast to Manhattan island on the east coast, filming the journey and interviewing Joe along the way. The film segments chronicling this journey and the discussions and observations about Joe Miller's art and process, can be viewed in the videos section of this site.
Over the course of his almost five decades as an artist, Joe Miller has received honors and awards for his work. His early landscapes—done while living in Moab, Utah—were abstract, full of lines, colors, and shapes symbolic of his subjects. This work earned him an NEA Artist in Residence grant for three of the United States’ most spectacular national parks: Arches, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Parks in Utah.
In addition to catalogue publications and awards, two previous films were made about the artist: The Joe Miller Painting a Painting for a Film Film, produced by Roger Darbonne, Oxnard, California, and A Sense of Place: The Artist and the American Land, a two-hour documentary of eleven artists across the United States produced by Nebraska Educational Television.
After my grandfather’s death, my father left Catholic seminary to support the family. He met my mother just in time to entice her away from becoming a Catholic nun, and they took to married life! Seven children were raised in Utah, within the faith that each person has a calling, a vocation. The vocation may be odd, it may be mainstream; it may bring worldly success, it may be a quick road to poverty. But never mind the outcome, the calling itself is sacrosanct.
My parents’ Catholicism has fallen from my life, but my sense of painting as vocation has not. Inherent in taking on a vocation is to accept any accompanying difficulties, impoverishments, failures. This has allowed me to paint for over 50 years.
I started painting landscapes in 1959 as a student at Notre Dame University. That is where I started gaining an emotional feel for depicting a plane receding in space, a field of grass with an object rising up from it, under a sky. I was also drawn to the graphic purity of printmaking and intended to pursue graduate work at the University of Iowa.
But just as with my parents, married life intervened. With 5 children under the age of 6, being an artist seemed highly impractical, and I followed my father into a life of business, with all the mainstream rewards. This worked for a while, until I was sitting in the Milwaukee symphony hall, the orchestra creating a great wall of sound, and I knew I had to spend the rest of my life attempting to create visual music. ..something that I could feel. The next morning I turned in my resignation and truly began to depend upon the reality of a vocation.
Soon enough, my wife and children and I were living in Moab, Utah on food stamps and 25-pound bags of beans. There the receding plane in my paintings became the desert floor, with a sandstone butte or a mountain rising up from it, under a sky. Often during this period my work was so abstract that lines, colors, and shapes were largely symbolic of the subject - but somehow always related to the landscape. It was this work that won an NEA grant to be Artist in Residence in the Parks: Arches, Bryce, and Zion’s.
My marriage was not a failure, but it did not survive these times. I became an artist in residence in Kenlake State Park in Kentucky. I spent 9 months there and began to work seriously in watercolor. The change from working on large canvases to watercolor on rice paper was fortunate, as I began to be rather nomadic, living out of my car as I traveled to spend summers with my children – who are now scattered around the earth raising families and following their own vocations.
In the early 1980’s, I settled by the Mississippi River and began communicating with my now-wife, painter Dana Roberts. Dana and I returned for a stint in Moab and then moved to her tiny cabin in the woods on San Juan Island, off the coast of Washington state. Here I developed carpentry skills, foremost to make stretchers for our canvasses, and to expand the original cabin, now our studios, and build a separate home for us and our daughter, Noe.
When I left the desert and my beloved denuded earthen formations for the forest-covered Northwest, I left my source of immediate conceptual guidance: where is the receding plane? The object rising from it? I painted often out near the shore and came to realize the San Juan islands are mountain tops springing up through the receding plane of the sea’s surface, under an amazing variety of cloud-laden skies. My imagination was excited by this landscape set above, below, and beyond the sea. As in the desert, I still work from my inner vision, even when out in a location by the sea, in the woods, or up in the mountains.
I paint from my imagination because I prefer to paint with relatively free line, marks, shapes, and colors unrestrained from the brush and color demands of realism. These colors, shapes, marks, and lines are to me like musical instruments capable of producing a beauty in their relationships and controlled freedom of application.
Joe's Links -
Debora Miller: artsquall.wordpress.com
Danielle Dean Palmer: danielledeanpalmer.com
Matthew Gray Palmer: matthewgraypalmer.com
Paula West: paulawestpottery.com
Claire Sykes: sykeswrites.wordpress.com
Tom Small: tomsmallsculpture.com
© 2013 Joe Miller