Finite Things: Melanie Miller

9 December 2020 - 14 January 2021
In this exhibition I will be showing both paintings and small dioramas.
The paintings continue my interests in my immediate environment and its overlooked details and treasures but also includes works influenced by a months residency in Canada where everything was unfamiliar and on a different scale.
The dioramas are made with combinations of found and cast objects, and continue and expand on ideas that have come from the paintings.
Melanie Miller February 2020
Finite Things
The objects of this show are all recognisable: a mushroom, a hand, a clod of dirt, a bird’s nest. But their settings are not. Many of the objects are set on black backgrounds that are

impenetrably dense; or, on the other hand, pale surroundings that refuse to suggest perspective or space. Similarly, even the dioramas in the exhibition are enclosed in boxes. We can only look inside through a small frame, lit by a single point.

On one level, these ‘things’ are isolated, precise statements of careful, miniature-like painting. They can be appreciated solely for their textures and contours. But the strangeness of their abstract settings suggests that more is at play. The Sailor’s Hearts, for instance, are far from static. Gaze at them for a few moments and their plumes of seaweed seem to drift on a space far larger than the panel on which they are painted. Their titles suggest a tragic narrative of loss and distance. Are they falling, or floating, or simply resting still? The deceptive simplicity of Miller’s designs does not give us any answers.

Neither, however, do the landscapes that emerge in some of the compositions. These are a new direction for the painter, but they continue the same theme of surreal displacement. Scale, for one thing, is unclear. Miller has remarked on her recent residency in Canada about the alienness of the terrain there. These ‘landscape’ paintings are again finely painted, but their size and locality are uncertain. Planes of trees and plants drift in and out of abstraction, hovering between flat shapes and the complex textures of paint they are composed of.

The dioramas in the exhibition heighten the tension between fineness of execution and

ambivalence of meaning. Casts of hands suggest reliquaries, a gilt egg connotes a naturalists’ vitrine But the heads of taxidermied birds intrude half way through the walls of the chamber, as if they can float through the space. Vistas of trees are converted into flat backdrops that wrap around the boxes’ interiors. Again, the effect is ironic, uncanny.

Paradoxes might not be useful in a debate, in a report, or in a scientific enquiry. But in art they can be beguiling and generative. In preparing this show, Miller took influence from Theodore Roethke’s poem The Far Field. One line forms the title for this show, and it is particularly apt, since it speaks to the paradoxes within Miller’s own visual work: “all finite things reveal infinitude.”

Alfie Robinson November 2020.