In our inaugural installment of A Creative Space, we pay a visit to the studio of painter and contemporary artist Emily Miller. Based in New York City, Miller’s work is steeped in feminism and gender politics—aimed at confrontation, discourse, empathy and ultimately resolution. Upon initial inspection, Miller’s pieces seem tame and somewhat submissive but further examination can reveal an underlying torment beneath a surficial calm. Miller’s tongue-in-cheek approach to her work is clever, entertaining and most of all entrancing.
On a crisp fall day, we made our way over to Miller’s studio with our photographer Dana Melaver. Miller was happy to answer some questions and let us discover her creative space.
Tell us about your early experiences with art? At what point did you become an artist?
“As a kid, I was constantly drawing or sewing clothes for my stuffed animals. I always made things. In school I was very studious and excelled at core academic classes, so I never even considered art as a possible career path. I thought I could be a lawyer, a journalist, a fashion designer….eventually when I got into college, I decided to give art a try. The first semester I took a class that was basically a 9-credit, immersive crash course to contemporary art. I fell in love with it and never looked back.”
Tell us about your studio process. How does an average day in the studio go for you?
“When I have a full day, I usually start off by having coffee and reading something art related, then yoga before I head to the studio. I try to have multiple pieces in various stages of completion at all times so I can rotate between works throughout the day. I don’t like to spend much more than two hours on an individual piece each day because I have a tendency to overwork the paint. Recently, I’ve started painting 1-hour portraits from life each studio day to experiment without the fear of fucking up. After the studio, I spend time with people I love. Everything is connected, so I try to keep my life as stable and balanced as possible.”
There’s a strong post-feminist undercurrent in work. Explain to us how significant post-feminism (and feminism in general) is in the grand scope of your work.
“Post-feminism is a confusing term for me. Does it mean feminism is over or does it refer to the world that has been influenced by feminist ideas? This ambiguity leads me to choose to characterize my work as feminist because I feel that term is more familiar and accessible at this point in history. The goals of feminism have not been totally accomplished, and on many levels that’s what my work is about.
I used to believe that men and women were going to be absolutely equal in our generation. As an adult, I’m reminded every day that we have a long way to go. There’s so much violence toward women in society and in the media. My work attempts to confront that violence with compassion and space.”
Give us some insight on your latest series, Remote Triggers…
“I started this series by using a remote trigger (which is a battery-powered button you press to take a photo from a distance) to take nudes of myself in contorted, uncomfortable positions. I decided to include the remote triggers from my reference photos in the paintings to be self aware of painting’s often-silent relationship to photography. In the history of painting, symbols are used to represent abstract ideas. I like that the remotes become part of my personal lexicon of painting symbols by representing an emotionally triggering event. The figures are in cramped and pained shapes in response to that event.”
What other themes can the audience find in your work?
“My portraits are very confrontational and emotional. I like eye contact and body language. When I paint somebody from life, I look them straight in the eye while I’m painting them. It’s very personal. I want you to be able to guess how the subject is feeling based on the way their body or face looks. When I’m not painting, I make installations that encourage socialization and community. I hope my work invites empathy.”
What are currently working on in the studio? Anything new on the horizon? Any concepts you’re contemplating or experimenting with?
“I’m currently working on producing two large paintings and a triptych for the remote trigger series. I am prioritizing painting from life as an everyday exercise. I am thinking a lot about sculpture. I’ve never made figurative sculpture before, but I think it could be on the horizon.”
All photos courtesy of Dana Melaver.
A Creative Space is an art based platform in which we explore an artist’s studio while conducting a brief interview. If you are interested in being featured in A Creative Space, please send a brief email providing your medium, website, studio address and photos of your studio to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Akeem is our founder. A writer, poet, curator and profuse sweater, he is responsible for the curatorial direction and overall voice of Quiet Lunch. The Bronx native has read at venues such as the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, KGB Bar, Lovecraft and SHAG–with works published in Palabra Luminosas and LiVE MAG13. He has also curated solo and group exhibitions at numerous galleries in Chelsea, Harlem, Bushwick and Lower Manhattan.