Storied Surfaces: Philip Miner’s Dark All Over Europe
“You have to touch the paintings,” Robert Yoder, owner of Seattle’s SEASON gallery suddenly insisted, as he, artist Philip Miner and I stood beside a set of five canvases included in Miner’s new show, Dark All Over Europe; the artist stopped his train of thought to emphatically agree. Titled One by Four & Four Minus One or Two, Maybe More, the acrylic and flashe paintings in question stood side by side, in a tight row, coated with a texture that looked like a literal manifestation of blood and sand—speckled, saturated, and sticky. The surface that met my fingers, however, was the precise opposite. These paintings were so uniformly slick it was hard to believe they were made by a human hand. While One by Four & Four Minus One or Two was unique in its need to be touched, each work in Dark All Over Europe had a story that started at its surface. — Erin Langner, Seattle contributor
Miner explained the way he created One by Four & Four Minus One or Two’s startling smoothness, by sanding down the layers of paint in a repeated, meticulous motion. Gazing into the piece’s rich, red canvas, it was hard not to think of another famously meticulous artist: Robert Irwin. The automotive paint-like hues of these paintings evoked Lawrence Weschler’s description of the way Irwin “spent hours polishing surfaces on his cars in places where no one would ever see them (the insides of doors, the undergirdings of the dashboard, the fitting of the carburetor linkage),” in Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees, which turned out to have been on Miner’s mind as he polished.
Similar to the way Irwin’s seemingly empty room installations required building a complicated, highly controlled set of physical conditions in order to visually extract the elements he wanted us to see, One by Four & Four Minus One Or Two builds and then disassembles a painting. The in-between state of what remains on the canvases initiates a string of questions whose fragmented answers collect among the other works of the show: Is there somewhere left for a painting to go when stripped of its paint, of its canvas? How much foundation can be removed before everything falls down?
Dark All Over Europe’s descriptive text declares, “A beheading in abstraction should be welcomed;” Charlotte Corday, executioner of Neoclassicist painter David’s subject Marat, is noted to be rolling in her grave. A revolution of some kind appears to be at stake in Miner’s process, but not in an entirely serious way. Two of the other works in the show—Dark All Over Europe and Profit Cher, Prophète—replace canvas with panels of overtly painterly, swirling fabrics. Pages from a textbook on sculpture—another medium in which materials are chiseled away in order to reveal—affixed to the surface of Profit Cher, Prophète command, “Simplify, solidify, unify, clarify your shapes,” a solution that sounds both appropriately and absurdly simple. The lingering sense is that the canvas might be missing, the paint may be sanded down, the pages could have been added after the fact, but some semblance of coherent meaning hangs in the air, beckoning our grasp.
Dark All Over Europe is on view at SEASON in Seattle, WA through September 28. Philip Miner lives and works in Seattle. He received his MFA from the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College and his BA from Whitman College. Miner’s work has recently been shown at Pulliam Gallery (Portland, OR), THE FAIR International Contemporary Art Fair (Vancouver, BC) and SOIL Gallery (Seattle, WA), among other locations.
Erin Langner is a writer and museum professional based in Seattle, WA.