Q&A with Liz Miller

Recalcitrant Mimesis at David B. Smith Gallery

There are only a few more days to experience Recalcitrant Mimesis, an installation by Liz Miller at David B. Smith Gallery. If you missed the reception and artist talk get caught up with our Q&A with Liz Miller and don’t miss out on seeing her unique installation.

Have you always gained inspiration from Clyfford Still’s works, or was inspiration drawn specifically from the opening of the museum?
This project presented a unique opportunity for me. I was familiar, of course, with Still’s work, but had not previously utilized his work as a point-of-departure. The bold colors and jagged, sometimes asymmetrical forms in his paintings provided new possibilities for my work.

How did you land at David B. Smith Gallery?
I was contacted about this project sometime last year. The project represents a partnership between David B. Smith Gallery and the new Clyfford Still Museum. Other than that, I’m not exactly sure how I landed at David B. Smith Gallery, but I’m sure glad that I did! David explains — “I have enjoyed keeping an eye on Liz’s work over the last few years.  When I was presented with an opportunity to have an exhibit in association with the Clyfford Still Museum, she immediately came to mind.  I thought about how fantastic it would be to have her interpret his ideas with her own voice, and in a contemporary and three-dimensional approach.”

After having spent a couple days in Denver, what do you think?
Denver is a marvelous city. I love the youthful energy, the warmer weather (I’m from Minnesota), and the mountain backdrop. Not to mention the fact that the art scene in Denver seems to be thriving. I’m ready for my next visit already!

Can you talk about the materials you use in your installations? When did you start experimenting with materials and how has that influenced your work?
My background is as a painter–I have both undergraduate and graduate degrees in painting. Even early on, however, I was excited about the idea of materials that had lives outside of art. My work started out as small, two-dimensional collages comprised of a variety of tactile materials. Gradually, the scale, dimensionality, and materiality of the work progressed…until the works became room-sized.
The stiffened felt that comprises much of my current work has been part of my material palette for a while now, but only recently did I begin to fully exploit its potential. It’s been fun to try to push the limits of the material. It is incredibly strong, but also conveys a beautiful fragility and softness. I like the contrast between sharp, hard-edged forms and a soft material. It’s also interesting how many different applications felt has, from crafts to industry.

Your previous work juxtaposes Baroque and Gothic pattern and ornament against forms derived from armor and weaponry — what influences such varying forms?
Through the use of simple shapes and repetition, I attempt to play with viewers’ perceptions. I see a direct connection between pattern, ornament, and decoration and the elegant filagree and silhouettes found in many weapon forms. I was originally drawn to the weapons because they embody both beauty and violence. I am drawn to pattern, ornament, and decoration that is taken to excess, to the point that it becomes so overwhelming that it is almost an aggressive force. I visited Versailles a couple years ago, and the level of ornamentation there certainly has this effect.

Did you visit the Clyfford Still Museum? What was your impression?
Visiting the Clyfford Still Museum was a highlight of my week in Denver, and quite important, since my project at David B. Smith Gallery was based on Still’s work. The physical space of the museum is beautiful, as is Still’s work. A wonderful setting and a spectacular collection. It was really nice to see the physicality of the paint application in Still’s work, something that doesn’t come through in photographs–there is such a rich depth of color in his paintings. And it’s really hard to become fully acquainted with Still’s oeuvre without visiting the museum, since they hold over 90% of his work!

What can we expect next from you?
I am currently working on a large-scale, monochromatic installation as part of a group exhibition called Abstract Fiction at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. When I return to Minnesota, I’ll be heading back to the studio to hibernate for a bit and work through some new ideas. The past year has been wonderfully intense in terms of travel and exhibitions. It’s been exciting, but right now I’m craving some time in my studio to sit back, sip coffee, and think. I’m hoping to exhibit some challenging new work as part of the 2011-12 McKnight Fellows exhibition this summer in Minneapolis and I need time to research and make that work.

Images courtesy of David B. Smith Gallery. Photography by Paul Winner.


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