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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
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.
© 2006 Christian Perring. All
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.