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Adam Miller's New Classics

Words:

Edd Norval
July 3, 2018

American artist Adam Miller is creating a contemporary understanding of Occidental classical art, ranging from sculpture to sketch. He's one of those 'they don't make 'em like that anymore' artists that is reinvigorating classic symbolism and technique to fit into our modern lives.

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In more contemporary fields of artistic endeavour, one could be forgiven for not instantly being overcome with a sense of awe. Lights hanging on walls or a few splashes of colour could stump a lot of folk. When we talk about ‘art’, we usually have a very particular idea in our head.

That’s not to say that things outwith those preconceptions aren’t art, but our most instantaneous associations of the word ‘art’ is defined by the masters that came before us. We can't help but think of the guys that wrote the book, not the ones that re-wrote it.

Look at Michelangelo, desperate to create a sculpture under papal appointment, only to be told he had to paint a bloody ceiling in the process. Michelangelo, many would say, was a rather quintessential artist – he helped write the book and also made the cover.

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That ceiling, he thought and with a little bit of prompting, turned into quite the project. With a small team of helpers and some drawings, he deftly outlined his powerful vision onto the high roof. He visualised many of the Old Testament biblical scenes – he created God.

We all know the Sistine Chapel as a place of immense aesthetic beauty and piety. The ceiling wasn’t his idea though, he was just trying to navigate a bit of blackmail so he could make his beloved sculpture. The sculpture was on an unused bit of marble that looked like it would have remained so. That quickly turned into David.

Art, in our heads, is usually this. Adam Miller is so deeply informed by those classical renaissance styles, even to the sculptures of Greco-Roman civilisation, that we don't see him as necessarily 're-writing' anything. His paintings carry the mood and hues of these old classics, but the sentiment – although absolutely imbued with melodrama like their predecessors, is something very modern.

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You might notice the poses, slightly more contemporary, or the shapes of the female body, breasts larger and bodies with more uneven formation. It’s Michelangelo 2k18.

Similar to the early classics, as heavily influenced as they were by the philosophical and spiritual tenets of the bible, Miller’s are likewise informed by the archetypal psychology of Carl Jung, captured in moments that are vaguely Nietzschean all the while making it through the washing machine of popular culture.

The pandora’s box of cultural history that informs and shapes his heart stems from these artists, psychological thought and aesthetic formation - but also the idea of myth itself, as explored by the maverick thinker Joseph Campbell.

For Campbell, myths are at the very essence of human life. They are informed by the teachers that came before and are moulded into a palatable enough form to resonate throughout generations. Life, then, the essence of being, keeps Miller’s work alive. Unless they ‘breathe’, they’ve not reached the kind of capitulating emotional resonance he demands of his work.

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The rippling musculature of the male form and the bodacious lust of the females of ancient art encapsulated a young Miller and it never loosened off its grip. Throughout his intense journey through the minds of artists and philosophers, he came to realise something at once simple, yet eternally profound. These classical artists weren’t creating work as self-expression, they weren’t students bumming around on their rich parents money. No, they were practitioners of the highest form of beauty creation.

It hit home when he visited Europe. Miller found more time, patience, beauty and craftsmanship in your average door-knocker than he was finding in the contemporary arts. His view of beauty might sound conservative, but it’s the postmodern idea of beauty that pervades our lives, the idea that anything can be beautiful, that has watered down our expectations of what beauty truly can be in art. Beauty is beauty, it’s not as much a perception or opinion as a feeling deep in your stomach that you just can't shake off.

His art is classic, modern and exquisite. He wants it to be a part of life like the art created by the masters. It’s not necessarily for a billionaire’s yacht though as much as it is something that enhances the allure of the evening air as people drink beautiful wines in beautiful confines.

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Art then, cannot simply be boiled down to supreme aesthetic sensibility and laborious technique. It must resonate in such an intense way that the ritualistic and pre-modern efforts that paved the way combined with what we know now, leaving us with something that's a sum of all the ages prior.

True creation can transcend a static viewing experience and manifest into something transformative. It might be hard to tell which part of our body changes, or quite how it happens. But we leave entirely different to when we first set eyes upon it. We experience what Miller did on his European visit.

So how does one reconcile our world as it is with ideals lending so heavily from the past? The worst thing would be to seem twee or out-of-touch. For Miller, he hopes to replicate a project similar to the Sistine Chapel, but doing so with the model of Darwinian evolution. It will offer us an alternative look into how our lives came to be. It's a look at contemporary thought through a more classical lens.

Nietzsche once proffered to us the question of how to cope with existence and destiny without God. Miller wants to paint it.

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