Katie Miller’s images attract us and repel us equally. This double movement is due in large part to the artist’s fastidious painterly style that demands close viewing as well as from afar.
Miller, fascinated by the connotations of what she terms “animal breeding, adornment, love or lust,” creates works that give us access to her susceptibilities as an artist. Sharply attuned to formal nuances whether they are in the realm of color, or shape, or line or subject matter she has explores the arenas of excess, decadence, uncontrolled metamorphosis, and artificiality. She is attentive to aberrations, hybridity, abnormal behavioral psychology, social pathologies, behavioral psychology, and evolutionary biology. She is fascinated by dog shows and child beauty pageants. Miller is compelled to ask questions about the nature/culture divide as she ponders the ins and outs (and the no-exits) of the nurture/nature debate that centers on differing debates about the socialization process. Towards that end Miller paints with astonishing mimetic exactitude in her new work as she goes about shuffling the natural order in her interrogation of differences, limits, and of the impossible.
It is evident in looking at her fantasy paintings that Miller is a perceptive observer and evaluator, that she loves to tell stories and that she is incurably curious and wondering. She is fascinated by fetishism, consumer fetishism in particular, and how sexuality is embodied and projected in how we pitch toys to children as well. Sometimes Miller has observed toys are given “looks” that are meant to insinuate. The paintings of Katie Miller point to her fascinations with how, as a youth-driven culture, advanced Western culture pictures children, how they are sexualized and made into our own adult image. There is a weird queasy pedophilic eroticism that permeates this work, not a small reason why Miller’s “prostitot” image-constructions are at once within the realm of eerily recognizable fantasy and yet removed from it as well. The works are conceivable and inconceivable as animals and children preen and shimmy with the heat of meretricious languor and of overripe sexual promiscuousness. It is perhaps for all these reasons that her work is so compellingly twisted.
Katie Miller’s paintings work on us because while we might concede that an ethical dimension courses through the artist’s intentionalities in the making of her art we don’t feel that Miller works from an assumption that that the artist and her public are in prior agreement as to what moral stance should be taken towards the subjects addressed. Miller doesn’t take the viewer’s sympathy for granted and doesn’t engage in special pleading on behalf of her work or the position she takes vis-a-vis her subject matter. Instead she puts us in the uncomfortable situation of not quite knowing what to think of her provocations.
The artist’s social and psychological caricatures in Little Boy Blue and His Comely Cremello and Tiny Miss Diva’s Puppy Style do not depend on the florid deformations or overt attenuations of elastic body parts as in the works of John Currin, or Lisa Yuskavage. Instead Miller treats her subjects with cool control and diffidence more along the lines of Nir Hod’s recent “genius” paintings in which he examines the romantic visual tropes out of which our cultural constructions of what constitutes “the prodigy look” emerges. In Miller’s two large paintings the artist brings us scenarios that are nightmarish in their implications. The innocence of the child that defines the normative child has been replaced by an adult consciousness of sexuality and desire. This seemingly compromised boy and girl inhabit natural settings that hold the disenchanted promise of normative woodland perversions and rural horrors. In such surroundings the demonic image of domesticated animals signified by the pet dog and horse has also been cannily visually de-centered. It is as if these beasts have been so un-bestialized so as to embody human desiring-drives that are in turn aided and abetted by meretricious vanity and toxic self-conscious narcissism.
It is in the interplay of the small alterations and minute transpositions in her details work that are used so judiciously throughout her sturdily realistic mimetic renditions of human and animal bodies in place and space that triggers our mounting anxiety. These are the “hooks” that really get to us: the French manicure on the claws of the Yorkshire Terrier, the blue-beribboned underwear of the little boy’s tightie-whitees, the curl of his right toe, the quivering tranny mouth of the little girl. And on and on. Out of this disquiet we as viewers find ourselves in the throes of Nietzschean laughter of which Georges Bataille speaks: “To see tragic characters and to be able to laugh, despite the profound understanding, emotion and sympathy that we feel: this is divine.”