Mitch Miller of Norman had survived an avalanche in Colorado and a year of seeing horrible events in Nepal and Tibet before arriving in New York late in 2000 as a young artist with $2,000 in his pocket and dreams of making it big. If he could make it here, he could make it anywhere, or so the song goes.
He had graduated from the University of Colorado with an unusual degree in fine arts and biology and from the University of Kansas with a fine arts master's degree in painting and sculpture. He also had learned skills in crafts such as woodwork, welding, fabrication and working with resin. A friend from his days in Boulder, Colo., was opening a gallery called Weebeastie in Brooklyn and had asked Miller to direct it.
We set up the gallery with movable walls so we could live and work in the same place, said Miller. I had all of my work from shows I had entered in places like Norman, Oklahoma City, Lawton, Dallas, Lawrence and Brooklyn. One night in February 2001, we rode our bikes into Manhattan and got lost.
We were coming back at dawn when we saw our building in flames. I lost everything, including all my work and the data I had collected. On top of that, I called my girlfriend to tell her about the fire, and she broke up with me.
Despite that devastating night, Mitch Miller, now 31, is back on the road toward making it in New York with a new studio in Brooklyn and an unusual body of work that recalls his experiences and memories as the son of a geologist and a successful doctor in Oklahoma. His sculptures and paintings display how human industry and nature actually find ways to blend together despite what seems to be a constant conflict.
His sculptures include about 65 metal, wood, plastic and paper oil and gas rigs about four feet tall. He also built a 30-foot wooden rig, which recently was displayed in a Field, Science, Technology and Nature show at the Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City, N.Y. His paintings feature bright orange and red Oklahoma sunsets, animals, birds and insects mixed with the mathematically designed steel structures of drilling rigs. They were expected to be shown by a curator of the White Columns Gallery at a site to be determined.
I want to show how industry uses nature and how nature eventually adapts over the long run, said Miller. That's why I show monkeys, insects and birds enjoying themselves while they climb on the machinery and structures of rigs. I also show the potential evolvement of birds adapting with legs or heads that look like parts of rigs and drilling equipment. I believe that nature actually will outlast humans and their industry, because nature eventually finds ways to adapt to any environment.
This concept is displayed vividly in a drawing of the geological strata under an oil rig. It is 30 feet long and three feet wide, and it also was displayed at White Columns. The painting shows the pipe from an oil rig extending down through various kinds of rock and soil, the ruins of an ancient civilization, the remains of dinosaurs and eventually to sands that include oil. It even includes the explosion of pressure at the bottom of the pipe, allowing oil to rise to the surface for use by humans.
It seems to me that some major Oklahoma energy firms would jump at the chance to sponsor a show by Miller, but how has his work been received in New York?
Well, 35,000 people a year visit Socrates Sculpture Park, which is run by the renowned artist Mark DiSuvero, and that led to his acceptance by White Columns. Miller also has been invited to show his work in a traveling show of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, China, and Sydney Australia, plus shows in San Francisco. Beyond that, he will display his work in a solo show called Puzzling Situation at the Carnegie Art Center in Buffalo with a New York State Council of Arts grant. …