The Photographer’s Painter: Mark Takamichi Miller

A child’s road trip is an unlikely painting subject, on a number of levels. Since children do not drive, rarely are they associated with the road trip concept otherwise so prevalent in American culture; yet artist Mark Takamichi Miller centers his latest body of paintings on view at Seattle’s 4Culture Gallery on this unusual idea. Over the past thirteen years, Miller has painted scenes from anonymous individuals’ photographs that he acquired through varying means—a roll left in a friend’s car by a thief, another forgotten by a waterfall in Zion National Park, sets of other people’s developed photos the artist purchased at Costco.  Given the diversity of subject matter at the core of this process, it is not surprising that Miller’s work forays in unexpected directions, such as a child’s road trip.  Yet this most recent series, simply titled Lost, offers one of his strongest reflections on the practice of art making through his highly distinct approach. - Erin Langner, Seattle Contributor

Mark Takamichi Miller | Side Mirror, 2012, Voile, canvas, acrylic, ink, graphite, Mylar. Image courtesy of the artist.

The six works comprising Lost reference photographs found in a disposable camera that made its way into a bush, at a residence in Seattle.  Miller speculates the snapshots were taken from the back of a pickup truck, by a group of kids photographing sights from a road trip through the truck’s windows.  Unlike most of his recent series, there are no portraits among the imagery of Lost. Instead, rearview mirrors, backs of heads and distant green fields create the distorted landscapes.  Most prominently featured, the truck’s windows are the true subject of these works, controlling not only the views of the scenes but the artist’s technique and mediums.  Reversing the canvases so the white fabric comprises the back layer of the paintings, Miller stretched opaque theater scrims across the top of the wooden frames, creating a pronounced sense of a third dimension that tricks the eye into feeling as though it is seeing through glass.

Mark Takamichi Miller | Rooster, 2012, Voile, canvas, ink, graphite. Image courtesy of the artist.
Mark Takamichi Miller | Multiple Heads, 2012, Voile, canvas, acrylic, ink, graphite, Mylar. Image courtesy of the artist.

Knowing Miller’s paintings are based on photographs, the reality of their storylines and subjects is tempting. We easily fall into the rosy narrative of kids taking photos of roosters and cemeteries on a drive across the country.  However, this visibly worked set of paintings implies a more intricate representation that goes beyond their simple titles and backstory.  Between the multicolored heads that evoke Monet’s haystacks and disjointed car appendages floating throughout the canvases, Miller extracts and re-presents the fleeting decisions of the art making process—the references, narratives, frames and viewpoints that comingle within a given artistic space. As result, questions linger about the road trip photographers, but even more so about the photographers’ painter.

Mark Takamichi Miller | Back, 2012, Voile, canvas, acrylic, ink, graphite, oil, Mylar. Image courtesy of the artist.
windsheild inverted.lost
Mark Takamichi Miller | Windshield Inverted, 2012, Voile, canvas, acrylic, ink, Plexiglas, Mylar. Image courtesy of the artist.


Mark Takamichi Miller received his MFA in painting from the University of Iowa.  His work has been shown in many solo and group exhibitions in venues nationally and internationally, including Triple Candie (New York),  the Tacoma Art Museum (Tacoma, WA), Howard House (Seattle, WA), and L2kontemporary (Los Angeles).  He is also the recipient of numerous awards, including the Seattle Arts Commission Public Art Purchase award and the Neddy Fellowship in painting.

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


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