A Field Guide to Snow and Ice: Paula McCartney and Ornamental Invasion: Liz Miller
Bio~ Liz Miller earned her BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design and her MFA from the University of Minnesota. Her large-scale installations and mixed media works on paper have been featured in solo and group exhibitions throughout the United States and abroad. Miller has received several awards for her work, including two Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grants and a Jerome Foundation Fellowship. She lives and works in Good Thunder Minnesota. She is Associate Professor of Drawing at nearby Minnesota State University-Mankato.
Tell me about your work? What are you currently working on? How is this different from past projects?
My work continues to be comprised primarily of large-scale, site-specific installations. For the past five years, my studio inquiries have been fueled by an interest in systems as a point-of-departure. My installations borrowed from various facets of contemporary life, including storm radar mapping and biological charts, graphs, and diagrams. One day last spring, while sitting in my studio, it dawned on me that my work is no longer really about systems! It was kind of a shock. I realized that I am much more interested in perception, and specifically ways that unexpected imagery can be embedded in pattern, ornament, and decoration. This revelation was the impetus for a research trip to Paris, where I took thousands of photographs that led to the creation of new stencils, and new imagery.
I am currently working on several installations that are very duplicitous in their content. They borrow from the language of Baroque and Gothic architecture, but are infiltrated with imagery from weapons, war, and battle. This type of oppositional content has always excited me. The work is more decorative than ever…and more sinister than ever.
In addition, I continue to push towards dimensionality. I am a sculptor with no technical ability whatsoever! And yet I love making work that infiltrates architecture and envelopes the viewer.
Decorative Eco-Disaster, mixed media installation, GOCA, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, 2010
"What is Art?" is certainly too big of a question to ask here, but what do you hope your audience takes away from your art? What statement do you hope to make? While I know it might sound like a cliché….I hope my art makes people see the world differently. I try to make work that is visually exciting, but that also provides a richer conceptual experience for the viewer that looks more deeply. I don’t expect to provide answers with my work, but I do like it when it causes people to ask questions.
What was the best advice given to you as an artist?
Judy Pfaff was a visiting artist when I was in grad school. Up until she visited, much of the advice I was receiving centered around the idea of making my work “messier” or “more painterly” or “grittier.” Pfaff walked into my studio, looked around at the messy gritty work I was trying to make, looked at me, and said “You’re stylish and elegant. So why does your work look like this?!” It was a pivotal moment for me. I knew she was right.
I think that was the moment when I realized that I had to follow my own ideas as opposed to following the ideas of others.
Ornamental Transgression (revisited), mixed media installation, Walker Shop, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis 2010
Tell me about your work space and your creative process?
My husband and I share a large studio in Good Thunder—our space is basically the basement of our town’s post office (we live in a town of 600 people). It’s just around the corner from our house. I love waking up, brewing coffee, and walking 10 steps to the studio. The perfect live/work separation! I am very attached to my studio as a site of inquiry. I know for many artists the studio experience is secondary now, but for me the studio is where things happen. I am not a rocket scientist, but I am really good at playing. I just sit in my studio and play. And sometimes it’s days of total failure…but eventually something happens. My process is very slow. I make large work based in repetition, but I don’t have anything fabricated. Each shape is cut by hand, albeit with an electric scissors! I love the individuality that is achieved through a simple process—no two shapes are the alike.
The installations usually start with a shape or series of shapes that are combined through the use of a digital projector. I make simple cardboard stencils and trace them onto felt. One shape leads to another. As works have become more dimensional, I’ve developed what I refer to as a kind of “wonky origami” technique where I create dimensionality through simple bending and folding of the materials I am working with.
Who are some of the Minnesota artists you enjoy?
There are so many amazing artists who live here. I am not going to try to make a comprehensive list, because it would be way too long. I will just name two:
David Bowen (http://www.dwbowen.com/)
Christopher Baker (http://www.christopherbaker.net/)
Both David and Chris utilize technology in their work, so perhaps part of my fascination is just that I am low-tech in my process and they are high-tech! But they each integrate technology and interactivity in a way that is beautiful and thought-provoking. And they have forged brave and ambitious careers nationally and internationally. I stand in awe.
If I were to follow you around to see art in Minnesota, which places would we go? What would we see?
There is no typical day for me in terms of seeing art. I am not someone that spends an entire day going from gallery to gallery. I like to hit one or two exhibitions and really spend time as opposed to going to twenty in a day. One place I wish that I went more often is Rochester Art Center. They consistently have amazing exhibitions, the space is incredible, and I feel like it easily rivals any art-going experience in the Twin Cities.
Where do you go online for good art resources, whether to find a new artist, or to see what is going on in the art world locally and otherwise?
Again, I don’t have a set site that I go to. It really depends on what I am looking for. I actually feel like it’s kind of easy to just go to a few prescribed sites and be sort of in the know without knowing anything! So now I just aim for variety. I really like some of the design sites for discovering new work.
Examples include http://www.designboom.com/ and http://www.mocoloco.com/. I have a strong interest in interior design, fashion, etc, so I often find myself looking at the other things going on these sites. It feels like the innovations in design are always more radical than those in art. I am really inspired by what designers are doing now!
Do you have any exhibits to promote in the near future?
2011 is busy. I leave to install an exhibition at Bloomsburg University (PA) next week (February 2011). I have an exhibition opening at the MAEP at the MIA in late April. In July I install work at 1708 Gallery in Richmond (VA) then on to projects in Louisiana, South Carolina, Iowa, and North Dakota. Then in 2012 I will sleep!
Super System for Marie Antoinette (Defense Strategy 1), Rochester Art Center, Rochester, MN 2010