In a large loft overlooking downtown, the studio of Los Angeles based artist Joshua Miller boasts an impressive collection of his work. After exiling himself to his grandparents farm in 2006 for three years to explore the themes that meant the most to him, Miller returned to Los Angeles and learned how to exploit these themes through his masterful paintings. Each piece is exquisite in its own right, but two of his paintings caught me and dragged me into their mysterious existence. These are the series of “hair paintings” titled Figure Dissociation and the series of “index paintings” titled Love and Dissociation.
“hair paintings” Figure Dissociation
“index paintings” titled Love and Dissociation
I would first like to look at the “hair paintings”. They appear familiar and identifiable at first glance but as the painting starts to seep into you, they become confusing and almost frustrating. The black mass that is the subject of the painting earns its objecthood by being placed on a shelf, tricking us into thinking that it is an item in the world. On further inspection the shadowy lumps betray us and become impossible objects, as if a Ken Price sculpture had jumped onto a canvas. The viewer can’t tell how large the object is, if it’s falling over, or if it’s coming right at them. The blobs are aggressive but not threatening. Some appear to fold in on themselves creating its own black hole, while others throw at the viewer the effects of a Necker cube, where we are not sure if we are facing the closest side or a view from the bottom. As the brush strokes fold into one another they appear to be alive and racing each other, giving the painting an exuberant sensation of movement. The paintings offer to open up to you and let you in but revoke any advances to inject a foundation of identity, remaining elusive. Brilliant and peculiar the paintings can make the viewer nervous and uneasy in their quest to seek an exchange with the object. You are left dissociated from its meaning, a disruption occurs in understanding. Are they phallic? Do they comment on ethnicity? Are they death? Or is the viewer dancing with the horror of the unknown? Miller is realistically rendering in the physical world, an object that is abstract, and the object pleads with the viewer to be understood.
After obsessing over a figure I couldn’t name, my attention was caught by the “index paintings”, which in their very nature disallow the worship required by the “hair paintings.” Miller’s collection of “index paintings” display a set of items painted over and over again in different styles existing together on the same canvas. He pulls inspiration from his large collection of ceramic figures. We are presented sets of teapots, human butts, horse butts, faces, and computer icons. The paintings are large and impressive but reminiscent of a study in a sketchpad. Going from item to item it’s easy to pick a couple favorites in each group but the viewer is left without a single subject. There is no central power in these works but rather the viewer’s attention is divided. In these “index paintings” the images seem so firm and direct that there is no need to question them. Again, like the “hair paintings” the viewer must quarrel with dissociation, but this time the objects act as signifiers dissociated from context and all made equal. How deep could the link between these objects really go? Again we’re faced with Magritte’s treachery of images, you see the images and can claim what they are, but they retreat into representations. We are also given the added bonus of a semantic satiation, the phenomena of saying a word enough times that you devoid it from meaning, but can the repetition of an object follow this thinking and lose it’s meaning temporarily as well? Miller is manipulating the quality of the objects, demanding the viewer to fill in the blanks. The paintings act as relics, preparing the viewer for deceit. The viewer must let the objects transition from mush to wholeness by encouraging the cross-fertilization of the images. One instance of the object builds on the next to secure their true objecthood.
Keep an eye out for upcoming shows in LA, as images and description cannot do these pieces justice. They are works built to honor a disturbance and persuade the viewer to reconsider why they believe anything. They act as a breakdown of the illusion of human experience while also standing as a triumph of technical skill. Toying with objecthood, meaning, and understanding Miller reaches into the viewers mind to impose a poetic union between beauty and uncertainty.
To see more of Joshua’s work check out his website www.joshuajonmiller.com
By: MP Knowlton