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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Review: Michael H. Miller, “Psycles”


Critical Mass 12 attendee views Michael H. Miller’s collection, “Psycles.”

Michael H. Miller’s painting ‘Living and Dying in the Nuclear Winter’ combines abstraction, craft and materiality into a really great work of art. It lives between the Art Brut movement and selftaught outsider-ness, and is successful because of the bold and daring ways in which painting, drawing, experimentation and risk come together to make a beautiful work of art.”

I wrote that paragraph about a year ago, in response to the work and artist I selected for a solo exhibition and highest prize for visual art at Critical Mass 11. It was gratifying to walk into Artspace a year later and find that my trust in a young artist wasn’t misplaced. Beyond confirming my instinct to award him the prize, I was also moved by his intense, year-long work, which produced 14 paintings for a memorable and shockingly good show.

As he revealed in our conversation the day after his show opened, this new direction in his painting style came at a moment during the pandemic when he was consumed by how to move forward with painting and art after school (the University of Houston) and pretty much everything else was shut down. That moment of apprehension and uncertainty led to a liberating period of experimentation, weirdness and play that produced a painting that he saw as a somewhat frivolous impulse but still decided to share with the world.

It was the freedom and permission from himself that began the series of works hanging in the gallery and that I am gleeful to write about in this essay.

No two of Miller’s paintings are alike, and the nuance and subtlety in some of the surfaces can be revealed sometimes instantly and at other times directly. For instance, they all immediately point toward a grotesque intestinal topography in a Nickelodeon-green-slime-kind-of-way. However, as the patterns trace across paintings, an entire codex of signs, codes, language and spirals groove into each surface and force viewers deeper into the works. They bounce with color that moves toward a rainbow spectrum of warm and cool palettes, and they spiral with a celestial pulse that swirls in some paintings and clumps in others.

It is rare for painters to create large amounts of paintings in a short period that are any good. Miller approaches that feat, and his works connect as a whole. His work experiments with an entirely unconventional mode of painting and leans into it with reckless abandon. Miller directly engages with some of the art movements he is in dialogue with: Art Brut, Primitivism, Color Field and Fauvism. Artists such as Jean Dubufett, Antony Gormley and Hieronymus Bosch may all be turning their heads or in their graves at the sight of Miller’s work, but perhaps for a better view.


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