See the Peeling Past in Greg Miller’s Nostalgic Mixed-Media Work
Born in California in 1951, Greg Miller came of age in an era that still fascinates him. The large-scale mixed-media works on view in “The Backside,” a solo exhibition at Gilman Contemporary, are practically dripping with nostalgia and a mélange of 1950s and ’60s style: classic cars and old-fashioned ads, glamorous women and comic book heroes, skis and surfboards, bar stools and billiards.
Looking at his work, you’d almost call it Pop Art. But Miller is perhaps more accurately described as “contemporary pop” or “neo-pop.” The colors are saturated, and the paintings’ surfaces are coated in hard resin. It’s no mistake that the glossy finish and advertising themes call to mind the look and feel of an old magazine: Miller finds inspiration—and, in some cases, actual imagery—from the likes of LIFE and Look.
As Miller recalls, he became interested in collage at an early age while road tripping with his grandfather in California. “He used to take me to see the ghost towns around Lake Tahoe,” Miller has said. “We would explore these abandoned homes where people had been so poor they would hammer a tin can to the wall to patch a hole. Their wallpaper was a collage of old magazines and newspaper clippings. As a child it captivated me. It looked more imaginative than any house I’d ever been in.”
There was an intriguing contrast between those shabby abandoned houses and the aspirational, starry-eyed Hollywood images tacked up on their walls. You could say the same of Miller’s paintings. The comic book hero in They Go is gallant but fading; old paper peels around his face, and the text above him reads “WHISPER”—a word that seems at odds with his position atop a horse in raucous mid-gallop. In Eight Ball, there’s a similar divide between glamour and decay: The beautiful woman looks like a magazine pin-up, and she’s juxtaposed with a sign for the Eight Ball Pool Room. The sign, and maybe the venue itself, has seen better days. It doesn’t seem like the kind of place for a woman like that.
It’s reasonable to assume, of course, that the original comic book hero and the original pool hall were once beaming and glorious. Therein lies the subtle melancholy of Miller’s work. The more you interact with each piece, the more complex they reveal themselves to be. Some of the subjects, as in Back Side, look right back, as if they know they’re stuck in the decaying past.
“Greg Miller: The Backside” is on view at Gilman Contemporary, Ketchum, Idaho, Mar. 1–Apr. 30, 2016.