“Fish and Fowl,” Steven Miller’s presentation of acrylic paintings at Conduit Gallery, is part of a characteristically bold program that also includes “Fraught, Simply Fraught with Narrative…”, a gallery of paintings by John Randall Nelson, as well as a video, Edward Ruiz’s Cityscape #1 in the project room.
Steven Miller’s landscapes (all from 2011) have an ingenuous quality; toylike ships, airplanes and trains pass by from right to left, dwarfed by much larger expanses of sea and sky. The extreme contrasts of scale makes for dramatic emphasis, as in Black & Blue, where a small airliner floats along at the lower right. Strikingly collapsed depth of field has a similar effect in Pink House and Cargo Ship with Pirates, where tree branches in the utmost foreground seem to brush against objects that are really miles away. Just to emphasize the point (of near and far objects brushing against each other on the picture plane), Miller occasionally sets turquoise and blue against orange and pink, such as in the eye-catching horizon line in Cargo Ship. Many of these horizon lines are fixed very high or very low, which tends to flatten out the visual field and unmoor one’s eye from a fixed perspective. When Miller covers the surface with repeating patterns, such as the roofs of a high-density housing development in Outcroppings or the countless individual snowflakes in New Snow, the sense of artificiality is quite overwhelming. Many of these techniques might be associated with the artist’s interest in Asian art, which happily seems to owe more to nineteenth-century Japonisme than to contemporary anime and manga culture.
Edward Ruiz’s video projection, Cityscape #1, is a nighttime scene of an imaginary city (perhaps owing something to Joseph Stella’s visionary hymn), with skyscrapers bracketed by cars passing on a highway and clouds moving in the sky. The piece uses video mapping software to size the projected image so it fits perfectly onto two separate, side-by-side gridded panels, with no overlap or spillage. You can see the effect when a flight of geese in V formation leaps across the gap between the panels. The video-mapping technology seems to bind the projected light more closely to the surface on which it lands, as though the video is somehow aware of the screen on which it lands.