The unadorned simplicity of Carl Miller's imagistic works on paper underlies what is a fervently individualistic viewpoint, a spirit that can be traced all the way back to the groundbreaking works of William Blake and Walt Whitman, the two great visionary poets of the 18th and 19th centuries. Pairing poems with their matched abstract drawings, each canto of Miller's works breathes full life from two different ways of understanding their meaning, through hints and gestures supplied by word and imagery. Together, they become something else for the imagination. Printed on large format paper and displayed in total for this exhibition, these works suggest they are not one or the other, but more as variations on a familiar theme – notes on a palimpsest, creating a chorus of sight and language.
Curator James Bae
What made you navigate toward your chosen artform/medium?
“I love music, poetry, and visual art as discreet disciplines, but for me, it's very natural to sometimes combine them. Visually, words are often wonderfully strange kinds of objects--they can change their meaning and energy and colors depending upon the kind of arena in which they are presented. When combined with visual imagery proper, they can really start metamorphosizing. Or the other way around…the visual imagery starts getting affected by the words. I just like seeing and responding to this kind of dynamism. Combining poetry and music or music and visual information brings all of the same kinds of analogous dynamics into play.”
Who’s your biggest influence?
“As a human being, my mother was the biggest influence upon me; she was the finest person I've ever known.
“As an artist, Shakespeare has affected me the most. For me, Shakespeare, as an aesthetic phenomenon, is endlessly rich from every angle of contemplation. The Shakespearean vision--or rather the artistic presentation of that vision--is overwhelming in all of the most positive ways. It encompasses the tragic, the comic, the earthy, and the refined. It is acutely perceptive, yet healthily detached and demonstrates a wisdom beyond any personal judgment. It is in touch with its audience and eager to entertain, yet it is never condescending. It is hyper-aware of the glories and terrors of personality and the inner self, and clear-eyed about social constructs and roles and all of the arbitrary misfortunes any human being is likely to face. It is celebratory, yet realistic about the bonds of friendship, family, and love. It seems to touch the limits of what can be done in art, yet miraculously, implies even more and is ultimately open-ended. In addition, I find it reasonable to surmise that Shakespeare, the person, was an affable fellow, an exciting collaborator, and he and his theatrical company seemed to have run a fairly tidy business.”
If you took any formal training, did you have a favorite teacher? What did s/he teach you that stuck?
“I have had formal training and have encountered many fine teachers. However, at a formative time in my life, my music teacher from Meany Middle School, Wadie Ervin, and my music teacher from Garfield High School, Clarence Acox, both had a lasting effect upon me.
“What stuck with me, through experiencing it, was how joyful energy, when focused consistently and in an organized, yet nuanced manner, can create without even speaking about it too much, a coherent context for camaraderie, courtesy, self-respect, and the desire for excellence to naturally flourish. Acox, in particular, possesses a great wisdom about the educational process. He can also swing you into health when he's behind his drum kit.”
What one piece of advice would you give to a budding artist?
“As quickly as possible, try to acquire for yourself a good working overview of the whole sweep of the art tradition you are getting involved in, whatever the discipline. Its history may encompass 100 years or 3,000 years, but whatever style you end up developing for yourself, the great achievements of the past can be some of your best friends and greatest helpers.”
Do you have hobbies outside of art?
“I enjoy conversation and treat it as a valuable art in and of itself. I also get great pleasure from physical exertion, whether it's running, swimming, cycling, hiking, building, or planting things."
Do you have a favorite work in the exhibit?
“It's difficult to choose just one poem/image pair or one musical treatment because the nature of the work is that each piece is a part of a whole and its function is to contribute to a whole effect, like choruses is a jazz solo or themes and variations in a symphony or cantos in an epic.
“However, I do especially like #19 because of the existential poise it attempts to convey. We exist within the great scheme of nature. The natural world is both beneficent and destructive--it is energy and process that doesn't really care about our human drama and concerns. But we care. And it is our fate to care. But, at least, hopefully, we can learn to care in a non-delusional way. And at that balancing point we're all ultimately on our own in how we celebrate, fear, avoid, or embrace our mortal situation.”
What do you hope the public will get out of your work?
“I would hope, upon first encountering this work, one would experience feelings of surprise and curiosity, and then a sense of exuberance and beauty. After a longer encounter, I hope one could feel that the work is filled with good will and a deep faith in existence.
“This work has its designs upon its audience, but it is also always pointing away from itself towards more sublime levels of feeling and perception--towards a category of justice and justification that every living thing has a right to claim, merely by being alive. I also hope one could sense, within the work, the belief that one's own unique intuitions and perceptions and imaginational capabilities and basic sense of things have a quality of divinity about them and are worth fighting for.”
What are you working on now and what can we expect from you in the future?
“I'm presently working on some sculptural pieces that I want to enrich with words and evocative markings. I have a more modest series of poems that I may or may not want to hybridize into musical and visual contexts. I'm really looking forward to performing both music and poetry.”
Why 33 1/3?
“In looking at 33 1/3 from the perspective of literary genres, one could place it into the category of epics, in the same sense that one might consider Whitman's Song of Myself, Eliot's The Waste Land, certain poems of English Romanticism, Rimbaud's A Season in Hell, or Shakespeare's Hamlet as epics--at least as epics of consciousness, as dramatizations of the inner self and its heroic desire for sustained vision within a context of mortality and contingency in general.
“The series of 33 1/3 numbered poems was a choice in form to bring it into association with the 33 numbered cantos of each part of Dante's epic, The Divine Comedy. Also, at least as the story has come down to us, Jesus was crucified in April, in the first third of his 33rd year of life. The poetry of 33 1/3 attempts of share in some of the themes that Jesus' sayings and life story embody--mainly being willing to let go and metaphorically die to smaller, more petty concerns in order to be reborn into more magnificent realities. Finally, given that the work also exists as a piece of recorded music, 33 1/3 is also a reference to the rpm speed of the vinyl lp.”
How long did it take to create the drawings, poems, and music for this exhibit?
“The composition of the poetry came first and took many months. The spacing out of the text and the composition of the drawings took less time and was a more relaxed endeavor. The recording of the music was a two-year odyssey--not every day or even every week, but many days each month-- month after month. Undertaken with gifted, beloved, and invaluable musical collaborators, it was a fantastic adventure in the dogged pursuit of something we were making up as we went along.”
How did you choose the style of music that went with each poem-drawing?
“For the music, I wanted a wide-ranging palette of styles, textures, tempos, and atmospheres. Beyond that, it was just having an initial intuition about what might be a good match and seeing how well it started working. Sometimes the hunch would evolve perfectly. Other times, it would require many different attempts and approaches. Additionally, the whole thing had to have good pacing and flow, and this sometimes dictated doing different music for a piece that was working well on its own.”