Friday, July 27, 2007

J Matt Miller: Head Lock

J Matt Miller takes everyday objects, such as tools and household equipment, and transforms them into curiosities. Some appear as if taken out from a kunstkamera, others, as if discovered accidentally on a dilapidated attic. The artist zooms in and reveals the smallest details and defects, thus providing a painted history of the object. His use of contrasting colors often substitutes any obvious lighting effects; even, unobtrusive illumination serves to bring out the subject of the piece. Compositions are mostly simple: a single item, sometimes two, are given a mise en scene, which they act out either with delight and humor, or with nostalgia and irony. Often a still life resembles an animal, or reflects a human activity: engaging allusions that invigorate the rusty and underused instruments. Watching Miller's art, I sometimes get an impression that I am looking through a filter -- much like the ones used in cinema -- albeit unable to determine of which color. He creates a unique atmosphere; unpretentious and frank, it is nonetheless magical and diverse. I think that one of the strongest features of his art is the ability to earnestly focus on the subject without imposing it overly on the observer.

Two interlocked wrenches: fighting or playing? Or, perhaps, making love; or yet, one is giving birth to the other, or trying to devour it. Both possess a large-toothed mouth, an eye and a brain, which makes personification almost inevitable. Possibly, even deification: there is something idol-like in their ferocious expressions. I imagine that from a certain perspective, this piece resembles a polytheistic icon (if there is such a thing). Industrial totems fighting for supremacy.

The struggle is no less than monumental. There is a lot of metal and the reds and browns appear deep and fulsome, as if masculine and muscular. Fire, steelwork and dark underground mines come to mind when looking at these tools. Except the platform, all line are diagonal, even if slightly, which creates a subdued illusion of movement: the clumsy dance the two wrenches perform. The given position is but a glimpse at one entrechat.

The occasional hints of brown on the otherwise neutral blue background also reflect the sheer energy and force brought to life in this composition. The struggle literally spills out to the wall. The latter, however keeps its blue cool and generally tones down the event; it is the water that negates the above mentioned fire. Thus the background assumes an active role, contributing to a balance, which nevertheless remains shaky: the original artistic intent, the way I see it, was to bring about a sense of dynamic instability. All this makes it a difficult work of art to observe and concentrate on, requiring multiple viewings, from different angles -- and securing a long and a lasting aesthetic reward.

J Matt Miller is a working artist from Seattle.

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