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IllumineReview - Illumine
Photographs by Garry Fabian Miller: A Retrospective
by Martin Barnes
Merrell, 2005
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Aug 15th 2006 (Volume 10, Issue 33)

Garry Fabian Miller's photographs are breathtakingly beautiful in their simplicity and rich colors.  Many of his more recent works bring to mind the paintings of Mark Rothko, not only in their use of blocks of color but also in the subdued emotions and mystical connotations.  Yet, while Rothko's work is often gloomy and even oppressive, Fabian Miller's photography is always pleasing and calming.  Illumine is a retrospective of his work, and at about 250 pages in large format, it is a hefty tome.  The reproductions of the photographs are of a high quality, and handing the book is a delight.  The text by Martin Barnes helpfully explains the development of Fabian Miller's themes and techniques, the influences on his art by other artists and photographers, and relates his work to some of the details of his life.  Illumine is a wonderful survey of Fabian Miller's art.

Maybe the most surprising aspect of Fabian Miller's method is that since 1985, he has not used a camera.  For some series, he has just used an enlarger or has directly manipulated the photographic material.  Yet even his images from before 1985 carry a similar mood and style.  Born in Bristol, England in 1957, the first works shown here are from 1976-1977, in a series called Sections of England: The Sea Horizon.  They show the meeting of the sea and the sky in different conditions.  Somber blues and greens predominate.   His preoccupation with nature continued into the 1980s, when he started showing images of leaves and other parts of plants, drawing attention to their shape and color.  For example, Split Thorn, the Last Leaves, the Last Branch, the Cuts, the Scars, the Wounding.  A Gathering In for the Healing shows a 9x9 array of leaves from the fall, in a display of 153 x 153 cm.  It is elegant and even decorative.  He makes the viewer focus on the subtle differences between the leaves which all have approximately the same shapes and are close in colors.  Similarly, the more recent The Greening Tip, The Beach Trees from 2004 shows green and yellow leaves in a 10x10 diamond shaped array of 165 x 165 cm.  The most striking aspect of this at first sight is the gradual shifting of hues from one leaf to the next.  It is very pleasing to the eye, and, as a meditation on nature, it draws our attention to the idea of natural beauty. 

Fabian Miller's use of series of images is essential to his work.  The repetition of similar images arranged in geometrical patters gives a sense of change, and brings to mind the seasons.  As with Rothko, the visual simplicity of the images does not make them uninteresting, but rather adds to their power.  They bring to mind something elemental, and thus they have a strong philosophical meaning.  This is clear not just from his photographs of natural objects such as plants or the sun, but also from his images of other objects.  In the 1990's, he experimented with creating more abstract images that do not discernibly depict anything.  July 17th - 23rd, 1993 is a triptych of three images of glorious orange shades with a dark stripe contrasting a brighter area.  Again, they are decorative, but there is a sense of mysticism to them.  It is no surprise that they are installed at the Cinza Church, Tokyo, next to a stained glass window.   The religious symbolism of some other works is even more explicit.  For example, Good Friday is a cross-shape in blue light against a black background.  Similarly, in his 1999 series, Petworth Window, many of the images taken from windows show crosses.  But these are not just pictures of crosses: Fabian Miller is using light to create them, and thus he is linking nature with the meaning of life. 

While Fabian Miller's photographs are deceptively simple, few other artists manage to combine the elements of light, beauty, nature and transcendence in such immediately appealing ways.  The simplicity of the images will enable viewers to bring their own interpretations to and take their own meanings from the images.  It is easy to see how the public would warm to his work while many other modern artists seem to go out of their way to alienate people who are not followers of the avant garde.  Fabian Miller embraces beauty in his art, and this makes him quite unusual compared to his peers.  One might even complain that there's a certain polished slickness to his style, making some of it reminiscent of commercial art in advertising. 

The most recent work of Fabian Miller in the book is the "Becoming Magma" series, which was displayed at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in late 2005.  This explored the physicality of Planet Earth, echoing many of the themes that have already been prominent in his art.  However, these works appears in light boxes, and this illuminated art may have even more immediate visual appeal to viewers than the earlier work.  This pushes even further the concern whether his art might be too alluring.  Yet these images are quite dark and imposing, so they look very different from commercial advertising, and Fabian Miller seems in no danger of selling out.  As we become more concerned about our relation to nature and the fate of the earth, Fabian Miller's work starts to seem political and even subversive through its beauty. 

So Illumine proves Fabian Miller to be a striking and interesting artist, and it provides as an excellent introduction to his work. 

 

 

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© 2006 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Reviews.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.


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