Artist Spotlight: Steve Miller

August 15th, 2015




Steve Miller’s artistic messages and materials vary by project, spanning from tech culture to natural science, and often fusing the two. While his mediums range from printmaking to sculpture, a steady constant in his work is the passion behind it. Out of his Sagaponack studio, he creates with a genuine curiosity of his subjects. He exposes life and puts it on a canvas; sometimes that canvas is even a hand-crafted surfboard. Steve’s art has brought him as far as the Amazon rain forest and HM got to hear about how he has captured its many forms of life beauty and brought it back to the East End.

Your work has been noted for being at the forefront of the SciArt movement. For those not in the know, what is that?

For the record, I am uncomfortable about being a member of any club that would have me as a member. That being said, the history of SciArt started long before it was labeled as an art movement. Perhaps the origins are Experiments in Art and Technology (EAT) that took place in the 60’s. In the 80’s it was people, like myself, who were working with art, computers and technology. Artists explored images of science, the visual vocabularies of science and eventually collaborations with scientists. All of these aspects have been part of my work. As the number of artists interested in science reached critical mass, writers such as Arthur I Miller, were documenting this phenomenon of these artists creating new visual hybrids. To quote Arthur, “Science, engineering, computers, and algorithms inspire these artists, just as nature, hate, love and death used to inspire artists. Instead of paint and chisel, today’s artists are at home with the new twenty-first century electronically-based media.”

Tell us about the mediums you have worked in. What have you been most interested in recently?

Since my curiosity leads me in many directions, this list is long: drawing, printmaking, painting, sculpture, film, video, internet based art, books, surfboards, skateboards and a fashion line for Osklen in Brazil. I even consider my free art app, ARTLOCAL, an artistic medium. Since the categories of art practice have exploded and collapsed, historically classical art mediums can no longer exclusively encapsulate creativity.

One of my favorite mediums is to make unique artist’s books. This is a ridiculous project because I have hand printed thousands of pages of books. It’s insane because they take forever to make, the audience is Lilliputian and they are expensive and difficult to sell. None the less, they are fun to make and really cool objects to hold in your hands that creates an intimacy unlike any other art experience.

What’s an art form you haven’t fully explored that you are interested in trying?

Collecting data about culture, that can be represented through mathematics, is something I am thinking about. This idea is relatively new because 90% of the world’s data has been collected in the last 2 years. That fact alone is enough to make me understand the powerful cultural shifts that are in transition.

For the hang ten Hamptons crowd, your surfboard sculpture series may be of great interest. Can you explain to us what it is and how you develop the idea?

Surfboards are some of the most simple and beautiful objects in the world. It’s the mass market’s Brancusi sculpture, “Bird in Space.”

In the late 80’s I was painting and shaping windsurfing boards because I wanted to use my own creations and experiment with the flow of water across the bottom of a board in order to have as little wetted surface area possible, in an effort to go faster. It’s a speed thing.

In 2013, I was taking x-rays of Amazon animals in Belem, Para, Brazil with the idea of giving the lungs of our planet (the rainforest) a physical check-up. On that trip, I made an x-ray of a live alligator and sandwiched that x-ray between two sheets of glass. I casually leaned this against the wall in my studio, for lack of a better presentatio, and it reminded me of a surfboard which, in turn, connected to my earlier history of shaping boards.

Surfing is also a huge culture in Brazil (besides the rest of the world) and putting these images onto surfboards made me think of a contemporary primitive totem that could represent the soul of Brazil. BTW: The current world champion is a Brazilian.

The flow of water around a board made me think of an object that is complete only when it is immersed in nature and in motion.   It represents an action of freedom like, for example, making art.

A lot of your work focuses on the of coupling nature and culture. Has life on the East End influenced that approach?

We all know that the East End is one of the special places in the world with incredible light and natural beauty. I saw an equally spectacular version of this in Brazil. This opened me up to bringing the relationship of nature to culture into all aspects of my work, in every medium. A t-shirt can embody this notion of nature and culture as much as a surfboard, painting or a sculpture.

The East End is also a microcosm of the global problem of the environmental effects created by over-use, over-crowding, water pollution and the stress on infrastructure. In 1980, when I lived on the beach in Sagaponack, our wells were being tested for the potato pesticide, Temik and filters were installed on our wells and we had a double dune in front of our cottage. With recent winter storms, the beach is eroding with a huge dune loss since arriving here in 1978. This summer we have poisonous algae blooms. Can we find a balance between land use and sustainability? These questions I try to address in my series “health of the planet” about which we are talking. It’s the East End that allowed me to live in nature and understand that it is essential to respect it’s fragile beauty.

You’ve been exhibited internationally but what is your favorite Hamptons exhibition space and why?

That question is like a dating site asking me 6 things I can’t live without because there are so many wonderful spaces to show art on the East End starting with our museums. Each space has its own character and spatial dynamic. I really enjoyed showing my book sculptures in the East Hampton artist bookstore, Haprer’s books. However, Long House Reserve was an amazing experience to place my sculpture in the changing environment of nature that transitioned from the daffodils of spring crowding around the sculpture’s base to the tall grasses of late summer threatening to envelope the art.

Share with us what’s ahead for you.

Besides working on ARTLOCAL, the next big project is a solo museum show in Buffalo that will open next year and travel. Of course, I hope to be immersed in the data of culture and combining this with a the trappings of traditional fine arts.

Hampton’s Monthly