Review of TCNJ Art Gallery’s Featured Exhibition: Ruane Miller: Through the Window of My Mind, by Scott Samuels

Scott Samuels, a junior studying Art Education and Spanish, kicks off the Spring 2014 semester with his review of TCNJ Art Gallery’s featured exhibition. Read more about Scott’s reactions, and be sure to check out the exhibition for yourself now through its closing date, February 20th! Scott’s Blogger Bonus is featured at the end of this post, find out what he’s looking forward to most this semester!

Ruane MillerThrough the Window of My Mind…Ruane Miller, Paintings and Prints
What: an exhibition of 46 prints and paintings by Ruane Miller
When: Jan 22 – Feb 20, 2014 (Gallery hours: Tues, Wed, & Thurs 12pm-7pm, Sun 1pm-3pm)
Where: TCNJ Art Gallery, AIMM Building, First Floor, Space 115

To commemorate the retirement of TCNJ faculty member Ruane Miller, the college is exhibiting a retrospective of her gouache paintings and digital prints.  The works feature vibrant color, undulating patterns and shapes, and symbolic representations of the various locales in which the artist worked, most notably the northern Arizona desert.  The show’s title, Through the Window of My Mind, reflects the deeply personal nature of the works, as well as their surrealistic and psychological elements.

Ruane Miller Image 1

Several works featured in Ruane Miller’s exhibition, “Through the Window of My Mind”

Miller’s works can be roughly divided into two groups: the digital compositions and the traditional paintings.  I feel the digital prints lend themselves to narrative, as they prominently feature the motif of a nude woman with short hair, depicted as a flat silhouette often with a glowing radiance around the edges.  Scenes from a Shadow Play contains no less than six copies of this enigmatic, curvilinear figure, framed in mysterious doorways, with a fuzzy turquoise tapestry weaving throughout the composition.  The largest figure dominates the lower half of the picture, and appears to be delicately holding her own head, or perhaps holding up binoculars to her eyes.  Since the figure is illustrated in a deep black with only a beige glow about the edges, the observer cannot discern whether she looks out into the pictorial space, or back at the viewer.  Or perhaps she is a stand-in for the real-life viewer, gazing surreptitiously upon the other female forms.

Ruane Miller Image 3

Several works featured in Ruane Miller’s exhibition, “Through the Window of My Mind”

Shadows Dance, another print from her Desert Light and Shadow Series, depicts the “silhouette woman” gazing out of an open door onto a sprawling desert landscape.  This picture seems to bring to life images from the subconscious; although the rock formations are strongly lit, the sky above is filled with deep gray rainclouds, recalling the visual trickery of René Magritte.  In the foreground, we see a literal interpretation of the piece’s title, as a row of small, floating, childlike silhouette figures dance under an instructor’s direction, each of them casting a shadow onto the sandy soil.

One of Miller’s most vibrantly colored digital prints is Desert Messenger, which shows the familiar silhouetted woman standing in a plain, smooth-walled room with petroglyphs carved into the far wall.  She stares out the window at a breathtaking, cloud-filled sunset.  A small bird is perched on the windowsill, and beneath the window sits an empty tribal-looking chair.  Is the woman waiting for a human presence to occupy the chair?  Or is the messenger the bird?  Or perhaps some unseen force or spirit living beyond the reach of our comprehension?

Ruane Miller & President

TCNJ President R. Barbara Gitenstein admiring one of Ruane Miller’s works

Among Ruane Miller’s gouache paintings are a series depicting the Arizona canyons.  In Canyon Music Composition #1, the artist simplifies the rock faces and utilizes repeating forms to suggest the immensity and depth of the natural wonders.  The canyons are painted in tones of rich burnt orange, punctuated with blue, green, and orange dots that resemble music notes on a staff.  The flowing river underneath is shown as a series of wavy lines of blue, red, yellow, and green; these are the “legato” passages in the composition, contrasted with the rigid “staccato” marks of the rocks.  Based on this model of abstraction, Miller moves further from naturalistic depiction and deeper into the nonobjective realm.  In Canyon Music Composition #2, the artist transforms the canyon into a winding road of perpendicular lines and carefully placed rows of green dots.  Using the strong complimentary contrast between the saturated blue background and the deep orange of the canyon, she gives us a sense of infinite depth, while simultaneously flattening real-life forms into geometric shapes.

Ruane Miller Image 4

Several works featured in Ruane Miller’s exhibition, “Through the Window of My Mind”

Miller’s subtle, beautiful recording of landscapes onto paper continues in Canyon Music Composition #3, in which the sky, clouds, mountains, and desert landscape seem stacked on top of each other like layers of sedimentary rock.  These background components are lightly painted in pastel shades, whereas the nearer rock formations pop off the canvas with hues of scarlet, blue, and gold.  In this picture, the rocky outcrops resemble a child’s building blocks, resting on each other in leaning columns that seem on the verge of toppling over.  The abstraction process reaches its conclusion in The Canyon’s Elemental Dance #1 and #2.  In these paintings, the natural elements are broken down into colorful lines and flat shapes: the canyons become orange rectangles with yellow stripes, the rivers turn into wavy or zig-zag lines, and the clouds are merely flat amorphous shapes with bright, radiating borders.

Finally, I think the most breathtaking painting in the exhibition is Dusk of Dawn…A Wakening, for its harmonious colors, flowing forms, and sensual qualities.  A gray-silhouetted woman lays along the picture’s bottom edge, enveloped in red flowers and flowing yellow draperies.  The outline of her feminine shape, her hair, and the border of her bedside window are embellished with pearls, and through the window, a blackbird glides in holding a pearl in its beak.  Behind the bird, the vista is a blooming cloudscape rendered in soft pink, gold, orange, and purple.  The female form and copious flower petals suggest fertility, rebirth, and rejuvenation, and the pearl in the bird’s mouth can be read as the egg of conception.  Though all of Ruane Miller’s captivating images have something to tell the viewer, I think Dusk of Dawn most powerfully brings us into her mind and inspires us.

Ms. Ruane Miller

Ms. Ruane Miller, featured artist

Blogger Bonus!
What are you looking forward to this Spring 2014 semester?

Scott Samuels: This semester I’m looking forward to creating a mural in downtown Trenton at the Artworks Visual Arts Center with my Advanced Painting class.  We will be reaching out to the community for inspiration, and will be working under the mentorship of Will “Kasso” Condry, a mural artist born and raised in Trenton.