13 Alumni Artists

Steve Miller - 13 Alumni Artists

Steve Miller. Self-portrait Vanitas #96, 1999. Enamel, silk-screen, paper, 50 x 38 inches. Photo: courtesy of the artist

Steve Miller. Self-portrait Vanitas #96, 1999. Enamel, silk-screen, paper, 50 x 38 inches. Photo: courtesy of the artist

Miller’s vanitas self-portraits take their name from seventeenth-century paintings that represent the ephemeral nature of human existence. Through such symbols as a skull, an hourglass, wilting flowers, soap bubbles, musical instruments, or a candle burning low, the painter alludes to the transience of earthly pleasure and the brevity of our lives.

While obviously indebted to this iconographic tradition, Miller has updated the imagery. Using the tools of contemporary technology to render body fluids – the element most characteristic of and essential to human life – his vanitas portraits include vaporous clouds of blood corpuscles (his own) and billowing swirls of pollen spores. X-rayed images of flowers and violins allude to his art historical sources. Miller has reimaged the macrocosm by substituting authentic documentation of his own personal microcosm. The numeric notation suspended in the ether of these composite images alludes to the precise frame of the film and the time of day, to a millisecond, on which it was exposed, further heightening our sense of the speed at which time moves on. Miller’s enthusiastic exploitation of digita1 technology and the paraphernalia of the medical laboratory is countered by a healthy skepticism that the notion of progress is relative, value-laden, and perhaps like ourselves, dated.?

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