Trace Miller's recent paintings at the C. Grimaldis Gallery combine the past and the present, art history and personal history, the concrete world with the world of thoughts and dreams. As with his past works, these reveal a painter fully in command of exceptional talents, and leave the viewer questioning only the degree of passion involved.
Using a technique of layering and scraping of paint that results in a surface resembling the texture of fresco, Miller creates images in which quotations from the art of past ages swim in indeterminate spaces, sometimes combined with elements of self-portraiture. It is as if we inhabit the artist's mind as it seeks a voice that can acknowledge the past while striving for originality.
In "Crosscurrents" are a Greek swimmer, renaissance figures and an arcade. In "Excavation," nudes are superimposed, going back to Manet, Ingres, Titian and perhaps others. The three graces materialize more than once, as does a mysterious figure that suggests to this viewer Michelangelo's "David"; but its clothing may indicate something else instead, or as well.
Often some reference to the artist, whether a full figure as in "Untitled" or a part of the figure used like a quotation, serves to connect all these allusions with the present, with the specific mind through which they are presented to us.
This telescoping of time is achieved through other means too. If Miller's surfaces suggest fresco, at the same time they assert themselves as two-dimensional flat surfaces which belie the illusion of depth. If there is traditional picture painting here, there are also places where paint is handled, and intended to be seen, simply as paint. If Miller acknowledges a debt to classical antiquity and the renaissance, he acknowledges another to 20th century surrealism and abstraction.
There is so much to Miller's paintings -- so much there, so much implied, so much to ponder -- that it is perhaps gratuitous to ask for even more. But they do seem now and then a bit removed and emotionless; they could use a dollop more of humanity.
Miller here reveals the mind and the hand of a formidable painter. Surely in the fullness of time more of the heart will join them.
"Trace Miller" will continue through Nov. 2 at the C. Grimaldis Gallery, 1006 Morton St. Call 539-1080.