When we talked to Douglas Miller we stood amongst his thesis exhibition, Title, for the University of Louisville at the Universitys' Cressman Center. We discussed his practice becoming more practical since moving it home, thus making it more accessible, his interest and familial engagement in teaching, and his influences in literature, habit, and the process of creating and destroying with the same purpose.
Miller's drawings are exhibited regionally and in galleries across the United States. Additionally, Douglas does freelance illustrations as well as private and corporate commissions. His artwork is in the collection of the Evansville Museum of Arts and Science, the University of Louisville, the Speed School of Engineering, and numerous private collections. Douglas lives and works in Louisville, Kentucky.
F-D: How long have you been in your studio?
DM: We have been in our house for about eleven years, and I've been there since we made the purchase. One of the reasons for our purchasing that home included the wood shop in the basement; it was perfect for my studio and I liked that idea, that that place is where work is done. I really enjoy that. Other than that, it’s small and crappy, it gets wet and stinks and is completely dirty and there’s glue and coffee cups everywhere; but there’s something about it that I love. I love having these obstacles.
F-D: When you moved in, did you have an idea of how you wanted to lay it out or did it develop organically?
DM: It definitely developed organically because as someone of. . . an advanced age as myself. . . I found that I would get sore if I sat down and drew for a long time. So I devised a stack of cardboard boxes that made a desk, so it was the exact height that was wonderful to work on. I’m like a hobo living in someone’s house. There’s cardboard boxes, some crates, just different things so I can stand up and stretch.
F-D: Since this exhibition was supposed to be a representation of your studio, or something akin to it, why did you limit the messy segment just to this corner? Were you trying to be practical?
DM: No, it was purposeful. I kind of structured this show around this Russian writer I’ve been into for twenty years, who I just love: Nikolai Gogol. He wrote this novel called Dead Souls and he had planned it to be this huge three-part series that encompassed the whole wide breadth of Russian culture and history. He ended up going insane, fell into a religious mania and starved himself to death; so he only wrote parts of the sequel. Dead Souls part one, as it is, is this brilliant novel that’s really funny and weird and crazy, but it’s so fragmented because it’s missing all of those parts he projected. So as it stands, it’s this really fractured thing that you can’t make sense of. I was using that as a model. In the visual arts, we think of a series, a body of work, as the same thing Gogol was probably thinking of: this big round thing that makes sense when it comes together. So I was more interested in all of those problems and all of those failures that happen within that. The idea was setting this up as these plans for a bigger body of work.
F-D: Has the location of the studio influenced your work or your practice in any way?
DM: It has made it less precious. With it being in my home, it’s no longer this exterior space or this destination. It builds this idea of expectations and “I really need to do this” or “I’m here on the clock, so I have to make the most of it.” It’s more of just, like, in and out. If my kid yells that she wants a sandwich, I can just run upstairs and do that. It’s like that, it’s more of a utilitarian space over this destination; or a romantic, built up place. The old wood shop aspect of that probably contributes to that. It’s like, this is a place where you build things and work is done.
F-D: Can you describe a typical day for yourself, in and outside of the studio?
DM: A typical day is. . . a big dumb dog jumps on my bed and wakes me up and I hate it and I love it at the same time. Now that it’s summer, with my daughter being in school, I think about how this is her summer as a kid. I’m kind of trying to do my best to make that this magical memory. So we wake up, mom goes to work, we hang out, eat breakfast, go to the pool. Somewhere inside that day, I try to do some work. I’ll ask her if she wants to do something so I can get some work done. If a deadline is approaching, then it’s more like, wake up, make her breakfast, and then go straight to the studio for most of the day.
F-D: Do you have a motto or creed that as an artist you live by?
DM: I have written on the wall in my studio ‘the glass has always been broken’. It reminds me to embrace the flawed, recognize indirection, and champion mystery. It is from a Buddhist text: “You see this goblet?” asks Achaan Chaa, the Thai Buddhist master. “For me this glass is already broken. I enjoy it; I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. If I should tap it, it has a lovely ring to it. But when I put this glass on the shelf and the wind knocks it over or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ When I understand that the glass is already broken, every moment with it is
F-D: Can you tell us about your process and how it has evolved?
DM: Probably the biggest change for me was actually in grad school; but I've always worked in this messy, half assorted sort of way. It kind of always starts with me cleaning the studio, then starting something new, and then trashing it with drawings and other things.
F-D: Do you see your work as relating to any current movement or direction in visual art or culture?
DM: I think within the last 15 years there has been a push towards what I consider to be “undisguised drawing.” I see this moving in conjunction with a cultural shift that promotes advocacy, discernment, and skepticism. While the Occupy Movement seems to have not made seismic rifts in the political and social environment, we do however see this transition from the ordered status quo to a recognition of the faults and fissures in our economic and governmental systems that I believe are an important and progressive change. Artwork within the last decade seems to parallel those ideas, primarily by challenging existing norms or turning towards less preciousness in the execution of the work. The work is undisguised and rough, rather than complacent and strictly elegant. Simultaneously, contemporary work ignores boundaries between styles, genre, or subject. The work I love shows the collapse between categories, class, order, etc.
F-D: Which other artists might your work be in conversation with?
DM: I am always talking to the past and present in a messy and confusing conversation. In the studio, I think about Cecily Brown, Maurizio, Cattelan, Toba Khedoori, Philip Guston, Cy Twombly, Albrecht Durer, Tatiana Berg, etc.
F-D: When asked; what do you tell people you do for a living?
DM: I usually say visual artist or professional artist then I, for some reason, do a little writing gesture with my hand in the air. For a visual aid, or something?. . . As if to tell them that I work with my hands. I am not entirely comfortable with the words, so I need something visible.
F-D: What risks have you taken in your work, or for your work?
DM: I’ve done some animation projects that were quite laborious. It was a project of hand-drawn animation cells that I didn’t fully understand before I signed-on to the job. I just knew what I wanted to see, but didn’t exactly know how to execute it. Also, the “Title” exhibition at the Cressman Center, which was an installation of drawings showing the failure of large-scale plans by displaying every inconsequential or sketched-out idea that went into the exhibit. Included in this are both large-scale drawings of fully formed images as well as unrealized minimal gestural lines on sheets of paper. In this show, I was documenting the digressions and often de-evolution from initial ideas to actualized forms.
F-D: Words of wisdom?
F-D: Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about? Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events? Where and when?
DM: I am always working on projects that excite me. Namely, a series of drawings that will be made in conjunction with Cellar Door, a specialty chocolate company in Louisville. Also, a group show called “Biophilia” at the Carnegie Center in the fall as well as a continuing exhibition at Blue Spiral One in Asheville, NC. I have a few musical projects that aren’t yet confirmed, but should be interesting. Also, I am working on commissions for clients in Quebec and NY.