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Vivienne Miller's exhibition at the Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia's adjunct space could be seen as a preview of work to come, or as a mid-term report on activities ongoing. 11 showed work done, work begun, work more or less complete, almost nothing that seemed, strictly speaking, definitively finished. I expect rather than presaging things to come it will be seen to represent merely a stage passed through. But which strands will have been continued and developed, which allowed drop? Miller is a young art-school product not long graduated. Canny, cool, circumspect-or suspected of all three-Miller curated with Bridge! Currie the exhibition Girls last year, a show that seemed coolly un-cool, canny in its choice of artists (who were male and female), and which put no feet conspicuously wrong. Miller's work in Une exposition was at least in part continuous with some aspects of Girls: an interest in social roles, in the range of forms youth culture provides for the selfs projection- and an amused interest in the ironies afforded in this mix. The exhibition established the range of formal means Miller is working, and it revealed totally other interests as well. The works were all two dimensional: paintings and watercolours. Most were figurative, a few non-figurative-abstractions made up of art-deco-ish chevrons, fan shapes and Wurlitzer patterns. The revisited art deco of the 1970s. The colour scheme for these and many of the other works was along a muted pink/blue axis with rather anaemic challenge from diluted oranges, yellows, greens and more of the blue and pink via kindred mauves, purples, blues and watery crimsons. One of the few exceptions to this was Heartbreaker, a three-quarter figure, T –shirted hunk derived from Michelangelo's David, made look comically sweet and dumbly fleshyfaced. Quite a dark picture, painted as from below, the view of the implicit, swept-away admirer, or perhaps one merely considering her options. A number of the more fully elaborated works showed young couples in domestic scenes. Where the abstracts seemed to tightly control a rather limited amount of action these figurative pictures seemed to me rather uncertain. The figures reminded of Conde/Beveridge's deadpan propaganda cartoons of the '70s, a little inert and bland, with a sort of paint-by-numbers or comic-strip feel to them. I found these far less interesting as pictures-than the highly organised, rather over-elaborated compositions of the abstract paintings, Soft Rock and Padded Machine. These latter required that Miller contrive some bigger, more dramatic visual incident to handle. But the domestic pictures were conceived so as to have none. Their humour was likely going to consist precisely in the lack of depicted drama, but the pictures themselves were formally a little irresolute. Still, the arbitrariness of the 'informing' colour-driven compositional solutions- and areas of narratively irrelevant ornament-seem an interestingly quirky distancing device. The Conde/Beveridge comparison is probably not to the point unless a degree of narrative is in Miller's sights. Though perhaps it is: for one of the older pictures in the show (dated 2000) the title, Preggers, did much of the work-exactly in the way of an Edwardian conversation-piece of the sort done, I think, by Orpen or John Singer Sargent- the
National Gallery of Victoria's The First Cloud by William Quiller Orchardson, for example, which shows the silence of an argument between gentleman and lady. The sympathy and gentle irony of Miller's gaze might suggest rather more the mise en scene of someone like Elizabeth Peyton: there is some of the same reliance on revived '70s illustrative techniques- from what used to be called 'commercial art'. Many of the less finished studies suggest this affinity. Almost none have an interesting surface. The abstracts brought to mind a field whose coordinates might be marked out by Lari Pittman, Trevor Winkfield and some English Pop Art (Tilson, Paolozzi, Tom Phillips). That is, one waits for the art to gel into conformity with a known paradigm and make a viewer's judgement surer. But as yet Miller 'will neither confirm nor deny'. The exhibition reveals instead an interesting array of options and targets.
Vivienne Miller, Padded Machine, 2001. Acrylic, oil, enamel, charcoal on canvas, 160 x 160cm. Courtesy the artist.