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Ruth Miller

Bowery Gallery | January 29 - February 23, 2002

Distilled and serene, these gentle still lifes present a wealth of observation through the artist’s engagement with kindred objects. The cast of characters that fills her canvases differs somewhat from one’s expectations for this genre, and Miller is known for her careful selection of them. Rather than opting for the seductiveness of peaches or flowers, she prefers vegetables with a solid and substantial presence. They tend to exhibit nestling postures, like her lounging eggplants that exude a reassuring calm, or her pumpkins leaning in to confer about the wayward squash at their side. Similarly, her leafy cabbages have an early-morning, tousled air, like the endearing disarray of someone you have woken up with for years. These entities are clearly companions, and her identification with them runs deep. She will tell you that she works hard at finding them, singling out the ones whose physiognomy exactly fits her needs. And, she says, her relationship with them truly spans the course of their lives. They come to her fresh and new, and by the time she’s through painting, they are approaching the threshold of decline. Like their subjects, the structural components of these pictures yield a satisfying play between expectation and surprise. Stylistically, for instance, there is often a sculptural building of form through color that is clearly linked to Cèzanne-esque traditions. Yet shapes can suddenly flatten out, suggesting medallions in the pattern of a supporting tablecloth or napkin. At other times, their formal integrity may be ruptured by a deliberately gestural stroke. Similarly, the pigment composing them often builds into thick impastoes, but it can also become washy or even scrubby, depending on the needs of the image. Colors range from naturalistic to almost Fauvist.

The imagery itself encompasses a spectrum of mood. There is an undeniable leaning toward the tenderness of an intimate portrait, revealing the subject’s character, and even shortcomings, with insight and affection. At the same time, each entity retains its vulnerability to the ironies of fate. One pumpkin, for instance, has been sliced open and displays the implanted knife protruding from its interior; at its side, a fellow pumpkin bears witness to this drastic turn of events. In other works, groupings may suggest an orchestra waiting for its conductor; “Pumpkins in front of Window” has its objects lined upon a sideboard, with knife and spoon extending toward the viewer like batons at the ready. In another work, two separate fragments of cloth become erect and almost vertical, as though suddenly called to attention.

Arrangements are generally relaxed and convivial, but in smaller works, the space becomes compressed, resembling a series of close passageways between the objects. It is then energized, with a heightened sensation of depth that draws you in, like the threshold to a maze of alleyways.

Overall, there is a sense of warmth and stalwart companionship here, a feeling of the continuity of things and relationships that stand the test of time. Despite changing seasons and the constant vicissitudes of art and life, these hardy spirits will persist in their reassuring presence, and Ruth Miller will continue celebrating them.


Deborah Everett


The Brooklyn Rail


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