Kristen Miller: New American Paintings Review

Fri, 09/23/2011

Materializing Mementos: Kristen Miller at PDX Contemporary
September 23, 2011, 9:00 am

Before experiencing Kristen Miller’s (NAP #67) exhibition Memento at PDX Contemporary in Portland, it is difficult to avoid thinking of Christopher Nolan’s indelible film of the same title. However, where Nolan’s treatise on memory employed tension and dramatic manipulation, Miller’s works small works on paper and textiles rely on delicate constructions, meditative techniques and minimal materials. Rarely straying from a spectrum of white and beige, Miller carefully sews tiny seed beads and paints comparably scaled dots of gouache into delicate, vulnerable forms suspended in space.

The visual impact of the works on view fluctuates between the subtle radiance of the textiles and the barely visible applications of gouache. The metallic beads of Carpet/Plain, sewn into a perfectly formulated curve, give the image a shining dimension that seemingly levitates from the paper as though it were a tangible object. The perfected stitching and textural reverberations of Shadow/Spring likewise articulate an elaborate dialogue between its circular forms. Both works utilize dimensionality and definition to create a highly present, sensory experience.

The painted representations incorporate subject matter identical to the beaded works but instead offer a heightened level of lightness and delicacy. The grooves of Beginning and Ending 1 evoke the edges of an LP through their shape, while the faded quality of the paint’s application creates a sense of songs that can only be partially remembered. Likewise, the gouache and glassine Shadow/Spring 2 sheds the detail of its textile counterpart, the shells of its essential objects left in tact, but thinner and only barely defined.

Miller’s show captivates in part because of the role it constructs for painting. A medium typically affiliated with permanence and substance, in this instance it portrays absence, offering the simplest mementos of the show; the painted images distill the forms of their textile companions into their basic essences. Similar to the memories of the main character in Nolan’s film, the present dimension is a space for heightened awareness and clearer details, while over time only the residue of the experiences valued most remain; the rest silently disappear.

– Erin Langner, Seattle Contributor

Kristen Miller’s, “Memento,” runs through October 1st, 2011.

Erin Langner is a writer based in Seattle and is Adult Public Programs Coordinator at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM).

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