Retrospective traces transition from lyricism to cynicism
Lancaster native Nancy Miller continues to enjoy a career spanning more than six decades.
Represented in galleries and museums nationwide, she has witnessed a changing and volatile art world -- but, undaunted by fashion, kept her work true to her beliefs and convictions.
"Nancy Miller: An Artist's Creative Journey" at the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio samples the major phases of her work. The show, divided into five sections, moves from playful lyricism to dark cynicism.
Reflecting a period of struggle and searching, the first section consists of several paintings from the early 1960s. The works anticipate a decorative sensibility that comes to fruition in her later work. Pieces such as Grapes With Strawberry and A Pot of Flowers mix patterns with direct observational painting. Though placed in the background, the patterns are the best part of every image.
In the "oPits" series, patterns dominate. The works launched her career. Using sheets of thick paper cut into intricate designs, she fashions op-art shadow boxes. Mounted in plexiglass box frames, each piece is roughly 2 to 4 inches thick.
The paper pieces are playful and driven by exploration.
Produced through the 1970s, they still seem fresh and filled with possibility. Works such as Geometric CW, Box O and oPit A invite viewers to consider space and form. Light, cascading across layered edges, creates an endless variety of shadows and allows edges to appear and disappear.
The strongest "oPits" are those with shaped plexiglass, giving them a sculptural look. The containerlike structures participate in -- and add to -- our engagement with the works. Examples include Chancellery Cross and Minisculpt B.
The latter half of the exhibit is more brooding and introspective.
During the 1980s, Miller experienced a radical shift in artistic vision. She began working with a Macintosh computer and soon divided her time between New York and Italy.
Showing a motivation to expose social ills, her assemblages and digital constructs can best be described as a curmudgeon's vision of the world. The satirical works, angry if not bitter, offer no real revelations. Instead, they serve as warnings and complaints.
In the "Uncivilized Civilization" series, Miller presents five complex altarpieces addressing issues of greed, ecology, institutions, rape and war. Using a host of materials, each piece mixes found objects with appropriated imagery.
The computer-generated works in the "Piercing Images" series depict the follies of humans in stagelike structures.
Three digital animations conclude the exhibit. In Garden of Eden and The Apocalypse, Miller constructs narratives of greed, war and sexism fueled by religious myth and zealotry. Samsong focuses on the state of the planet.
In her 80s, Miller demonstrates that creative energy has no age limit. While other people sit back, she actively and passionately seeks to make the world a better place.