Miller moves to more abstract, introspective art

May 12, 1994|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

It's always easier to play it safe. Trace Miller, an artist with tons of talent, has at times left the impression of being satisfied with the tour de force painting replete with art historical references. They were good, but to some extent he was showing what he could do, not what he was.

His recently opened show at Grimaldis reveals that he has taken a step forward. His new paintings are less immediately likable and more introspective. He retains the figure, but largely as a compositional device, for he has gone a long way toward abstraction in these works. Similarly, while it may be possible to read meanings into these paintings, content really isn't what they're about. They're more about form, and about making a painting.

One of the largest works here is "Syncopation (Pacer)." A group of outlined figures paces across the canvas; there are clusters of these at both ends of the image, while the center is more open, with fewer figures. Underneath is a completely abstract ground of broad brush strokes, with underlying layers showing at the edges, indicating how the artist developed the image.

One could interpret this as a comment on the individualist impulse vs. the pressure to conform. But it works better in purely visual terms, as a kind of rolling movement across a surface which moves in a different, more tranquil way.

"Satie" features a central image of a figure upside down, but this picture offers a reversal of the traditional order of art making. Whereas the artist's marks are usually the means of making the picture, which is what we're supposed to see, here the picture (the human figure) is merely the excuse for the marks, and it's the marks as marks that we're supposed to see. And what elegant marks Miller's squiggles and loops and undulating lines are. This, the most successful painting in the show, is a truly abstract work.

Two smaller paintings, "Mobius Strip I" and "Mobius Strip II," show a group of figures in a circle placed near the center of a much larger piece of paper painted in a single color. If you read the figures not as a group of human beings but simply as forming a shape within another shape, and a texture against a contrasting texture, these, too, become abstract images.

Not everything here is equally successful. "Gate," centered on a banal pattern, quickly becomes tiresome. But it's an exception.

In the long run, it may turn out that these are a transitional group, for it could be that Miller is an abstract artist struggling to be free of the baggage of beautiful depiction. But that shouldn't be taken to mean that these works aren't fully realized; whatever comes next, they have the feel of complete works of art, and one senses from them that the artist is making a breakthrough to someplace in himself that he can now express.

ART REVIEW

What: Trace Miller: New Paintings

Where: The C. Grimaldis Gallery, 523 N. Charles St.

When: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through May 28

Call: (410) 539-1080

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