Bruce Miller has been a museumgoer for nearly all his life. In fact, ask him about an artist and he’ll recount his or her works and talents with an encyclopedic ease. From Da Vinci to O’Keeffe to whoever it was who carved into ice 10,000 years ago, Miller not only relishes the history of art, but the purity and the practice of it. When he was 20 years old, he encountered his first museum exhibit. The artist in question was Francis Bacon. Now, 50 years later, the Atascadero-based artist’s sculptures, photography, and paintings are the subject of their own exhibit—Abstract Realities—at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art.
- IMAGE COURTESY OF SLOMA
- SKETCH AN ETCH: Bruce Miller's intricate aluminum etchings are the result of meticulous design and craftsmanship.
“When you walk into a museum,” he said as we moved among his newly installed pieces, “you have to open yourself to the masterpieces.”
Openness is the key term, because as you walk into this museum and see the diverse pieces Miller has to offer, they command your engagement. A metallic beam hangs from above, a blue glove holds a blue phone, and a tower of interlocking aluminum tubes stands just in front of a vast painting of splattered white, blue, yellow, and red. If this all seems a little chaotic, step a little closer. Things won’t become clearer, but the view will certainly change.
Miller’s works benefit from this kind of intimate interaction: walking up close and really looking into the contours, shapes, colors, and reflections of each sculpture, photograph, or painting. Approach one of his many alluring aluminum etchings and, at first, you’ll notice a basic pattern. Some are circular; some are rectangular; some are a combination of both. But lean in, stare a little harder, and you’ll see the object light up with intricacies and labyrinthine lines that shift and transform at every angle. It’s a hypnotizing effect that results from meticulous craftsmanship.
- IMAGE COURTESY OF SLOMA
- TUBULAR!: Often, Miller says, his sculptures grow out of themselves and evolve into complex, geometric structures, as can be seen above.
For his sculptures, Miller prefers to work with aluminum.
“It’s light, easy to cut, and responds well,” he explained.
Sometimes, he has a singular vision. For the etchings, at least, he draws the design first, then processes it into a physical object. But for the most part, Miller’s pieces evolve out of themselves. What began as one solitary rectangular tube grew into 221 rectangular tubes stacked into an impressive pillar. And what was once only remnant metal from another sculpture turned, in Miller’s hands, into its own polished work of art.
“Every piece is its own,” he said, “and they are really the result of an emotion that I have tried to make physical.”
That strong, sensory impetus can be seen in Miller’s paintings and photographs as well, which speak to the same kind of emotional and organic process as the aluminum monoliths. Using sticks instead of brushes, Miller drizzles sturdy European house paint on flat surfaces with what appears to be reckless abandon. The lines seem haphazard; the colors are vivid, but not always immediately complimentary. But, again, a step a little closer to the canvas yields familiar scenes: a set of clouds and a possible skyline. There’s freedom in this medium that Miller prefers to something more tedious.
“Painting is the joy; sculpture is obsessive,” he said. “If you can align the movement of the application of the paint to the space in you when you’re not thinking anymore, it’s completely liberating.”
Even if Miller finds the process behind painting to be more freeing than that of sculpture or photography, his opinions don’t diminish the works’ openness for the viewer. What unites such seemingly disparate pieces as a photographic triptych of sugared cereal, a futuristic-looking series of metallic tubes, and a painting of freeform lines is precisely their lack of connection. Each piece stands on its own as a evocative portal, open to any interpretation, with no background story or recognizable image necessary. That’s a liberating experience in and of itself—like painting is for Miller.
“There’s no destination; it’s always the same,” he said. “You connect with that emotion, that remembrance, something that impacts you, and you try to explore it. … There is no narrative. Man has this incredible need to reproduce what he sees … and alter it ever so slightly.”
Jessica Peña is busy drizzling paint at the moment, but you can leave her a message at email@example.com.