JOSHUA MILLER paints his language on a shelf. Or floats it in a grid. Or nestles it in the folds of the inkiest, shiniest, slickest black hairdo you’ve ever seen. Sometimes the hairdo is also on the shelf. Now and then the hairdo is the shelf. If those sentences don’t make sense, it’s because sentences are clumsy dance partners for Miller’s paintings. They have a sense of space that I can only call real, but it is populated by impossible things—the hairy shelves of Love and Boredom 17 support a suite of stumpy, lit candles seemingly made of wood or hair or I don’t know what. A particularly smooshed-looking candle off to the right nearly disappears into the background of the painting, which is not a wall per se, but nonetheless supports the shadows coming off the curious shelves. The conceptual tug is so obvious of course I missed it: the candles are made of paint. So is the hair and the shadow. Odd how paint makes such a simple observation stumble off the tongue. The progression of Miller’s ongoing Love and Boredom series is nothing less than the ontology of language itself, the odd ways that images and objects—especially images of objects—both summon and deflect the agency of words.
Another painter once told me, “When you describe something, it dies.” As a writer this is not a pleasing sentence to hear. Not that it’s wrong. It just feels like a bulwark against criticism, as well as the whole network of language and money and social relations that zip around paintings like a pneumatic tube system of value. It’s what makes them fun to talk about. The art historian Michael Baxandall similarly suspected that you can never actually describe a painting, only actions in the past and present feelings about them. If that’s so then the bulwark against death in Miller’s paintings is their wry welcome of our fumbling stabs at description. They’re fun to look at. They summon a fundamental question of engagement posed by the writer and critic Bruce Hainley: “How does this thing, call it art, require language to be beholden to it?” Love and Boredom feels like a pretty good epithet for the favors Miller’s paintings grant to language. Talking about them is like chewing on a rebus of the ineffable. We might choke on a hair now and then, but oh what a beautiful ‘do!
-Christina Catherine Martinez
*commissioned on the occasion of the exhibition Blurring the Bull at The Diogenes Club in Los Angeles.