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Peter MillerSince 1992, Peter Miller has held 17 one-man exhibitions in venues ranging from a vacant store in an obscure corner of Kamakura to the Yokohama Museum and galleries in London, Cologne, New York, Washington, Houston, Seattle, Vladivostok, Novosibirsk, and Tokyo (among others). The oldest building in which Miller's work has been exhibited is the Palazzo dei Consoli, a 13th-century civic center in Gubbio, Italy. Group exhibits have taken him to the Musee Jenisch in Vevey, Switzerland, an exhibit on 'The Art of Memory' at the Royal National Theater in London, and the International Engraving Exhibition in Cremona, Italy. Prints of his have been acquired for the permanent collections of Cleveland Museum of Art, National Museum of American Art, Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Kamakura Museum of Modern Art, and the Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian where he is (with the exception of Whistler) the only American artist represented in a collection devoted to the art of Asia.
Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) where Miller grew up in the 1950s was a gritty steel town with a Venusian atmosphere; a favorite teen amusement was watching the flaming slag heaps at night. Something of his 'Iron City' origins must have remained in his blood, as many years later he took naturally to etching copper with ferric chloride, a lovely rust-and-sangria-colored chemical. Pittsburgh prided itself on its steel industry and on its position at the confluence of the Alleghany and Monongahela Rivers, which for a century or so produced much of the wealth of the nation. Its fabled families of Fricks and Schenleys, Schiffs and Carnegies and Mellons, left their names on gracious parks and libraries there, and their money in grander institutions elsewhere. The endowment for the National Gallery of Art bestowed on Washington DC by the Mellons came from the wealth of Pittsburgh. Yet what Pittsburgh lacked in national cultural grandeur it more than made up for in local color. Its neighborhoods of onion-domed churches would still today look at home in the eastern Europe from which many of its early immigrants came. The landscape of hills and valleys in this northern outpost of Appalachia sheltered dozens of self-sufficient ethnic communities. Following Saw Mill Run Boulevard, wandering around Duquesne Heights, Beltzhoover, Mt Oliver, crossing the bridge to Homestead, riding a streetcar to Braddock or South Hills -- these were some of the pleasures of Peter Miller's youth.
After college in New York, Miller moved to California, where he became a citizen of Silicon Valley and was initiated into the mysteries of high technology. A visit to Japan led to a role as high-tech matchmaker and a chance acquaintance with the many uses of ultraviolet light. Ultraviolet light patterns semiconductor wafers, printed circuit boards, fast-drying commercial inks, glues, optical fiber - and photogravure. So it was that on first sight of the 19th-century gravures of Peter Henry Emerson, Miller experienced an epiphany to the effect that this was what photos were meant to be. He had previously become the first foreign member of the Japan Alpine Photographers Association. But those shiny coatings on plastic surfaces seemed insubstantial, though he had no idea what the alternative might be until he saw the work of the 19th-century gravurists. Miller then set out to re-discover this printmaking technique which had arisen at the dawn of photography, later to be displaced by faster and cheaper methods. He built a workshop in Kamakura, Japan in 1991, and having no teacher, spent the following year researching historical sources, acquiring materials, and experimenting 'by trial-and-error, mostly error', he says. The first results, like the first photographs from the 1830s and 1840s, were hardly recognizable. Slowly the inter-related effects of ultraviolet exposure, resist sensitivity, etching time, paper dampening, ink mixing, and printing came together. Miller held his first exhibition of 12 prints in the aforementioned vacant store in 1992.
For many viewers, Miller's prints evoke memories of or longings for times and places that seem familiar, but which, in point of fact, lie just beyond their everyday experience. Rather than try to explain this mysterious graphics-mediated time-travel, Miller prefers that viewers simply enjoy the experience.
Representatives (November 2006):
Houston, Texas: Devin Borden Hiram Butler Gallery, 4520 Blossom Street, Houston 77007
Tel 713-863-7097, fax 713-863-7130.
San Francisco, California: Japonesque, 824 Montgomery Street, San Francisco, California 94133
Tel 415 391-8860, Fax 415-391-3530
Pacific Grove, California: Alyssa Weber
London, England: Francis Kyle Gallery, 9 Maddox Street, London W1R 9LE
weekdays 10 am - 6 pm, Saturdays 11 am - 5 pm
Oslo, Norway: KunstVerket Galleri, Tromsogt 5B, Oslo 0565