I’m not interested in describing the object. I’m interested in presence, the weight, the mass, relationships. It’s not about describing things. I don’t think that is enough – I think that’s nothing really. In the setup I put together, after the presence, the relationships, then they begin to look back at me, especially these things that I’m choosing to paint. They begin to look back at me at a point in the work, almost like a portrait. But again, they’re not portraits of individual objects. I hope they’re not. But this is, I think, the tension in my work and the battle in my work.
–Ruth Miller, in conversation with Stuart Shils
Ruth Miller, a painter of still life and landscape, lives and works in Washington Depot, Connecticut. Although working occasionally from memory, the artist paints mostly from observation. For her no two cabbages, no two pitchers are alike; each object has its unique and formal presence, with attention paid to the way forms press against each other and shape the space around them.
Mostly I work from observation. Sometimes the places and things I paint give themselves up quickly, but more often they do not and I HAVE TO settle down to a long pursuit during which looking, memory and desire all play a role. I am interested in the identity and the presence of my subject as well as a formal concept of composition. I hope that through work I do justice to my subject and the form, the geometry is found – are revealed.
Among the subjects I like to paint are fruit and vegetables, which sooner or later rot and decay and this gives a sense of urgency and transience to my work. It is the same with the landscape, as the light keeps changing and no two days are the same. However, I am not trying to paint transience, on the contrary, I find the longer I work on a painting the closer I get to a clear and true realization of what I am looking at, or rather HOW I am seeing it. It is through this process of search and change that I hope to find the geometry and the unique individuality of the whole, AND if I am lucky, the painting will look back at me with all the force of a portrait.
Perhaps it takes a lifetime to make a painting. I do know painting is an act of faith involving the whole self, and this is true whether one works figuratively or abstractly. This brings me to questions concerning figuration and abstraction. I believe all painting is abstract: involving translation, transformation through paint on a two dimensional plane. Look at Chardin’s Basket of Wild Strawberries: a pyramid, a red cone – glorious! Here the geometric abstraction and the perceptual are inseparable. Morandi said: Nothing is as abstract as Reality. Guston on questioning image making and what it means to paint abstractly – “I do not see why the loss of faith in the known image and symbol in our time should be celebrated as a freedom. It is a loss from which we suffer, and this pathos motivates modern painting and poetry at its heart.”
Hyperallergic review, “A Little-Known but Beloved Artist’s Quietly Powerful Still Lifes, Ruth Miller tells us worlds about what it means to see,” John Goodrich, John Davis Gallery, 2018