Calm and a Horse 2021
Materials: oil on canvas, triptych, 4’ x 9’
Location at Summa: Juve Family Behavioral Health Pavilion, second floor lobby
About the art and the artist:
Margo Miller locates us in the midst of what appears to be a vast autumn landscape, trees still hanging onto a few leaves and the brown and orange hues of dried grasses dominating the closer reaches, even as more distant hills retain some green. We feel the sunlight on these further hills, as well as the passing shadows, so we have a sense of movement, of time. The gentle fall of a river crosses the middle of this triptych and so also imparts motion to the entire landscape, but overall restfulness, calm, is the feeling we experience in the repeated sweeps of color, playing out mostly as horizontals across all three aligned canvases.
While we recognize these painted areas as landscape elements, beneath a deep blue -- perhaps stormy -- sky, the artist also wants us to notice and appreciate the tracks of her brush on the canvas. This kind of attention opens up for us the abstract potential of this work: The horizontals of unmodulated color, reminding us of the rock strata evident throughout the southwest, reveal themselves in the painting to have been finished with vertical strokes that might suggest those rocks or foliage but work best as traces of how the painting is put together physically. Miller tells us that she has become increasingly absorbed with the abstraction inherent in landscapes; these western views offer her the latitude (and longitude!) to push that abstraction pretty far. In the late nineteenth century, another time and place, this trajectory from descriptive landscape to abstraction was set forth by Paul Cézanne, although we would never mistake Miller's big, bold canvases for those by the Impressionist innovator, whose work may seem somewhat reserved by comparison.
And then the title chosen by Miller reminds us about that horse, or rather the three, one in each panel. They're the only representational form (however unobtrusive) besides the several almost-bare trees, which they resemble somewhat uncannily in their wiry thinness. Their solitary nature gives them an almost autobiographical importance, increased by their repetition and by the way in which they are so much a part of this landscape. Which rings true, when we learn that the artist spent many years of her youth on horseback on and near the farm where she was raised in Ohio. It was on horseback, she says, that she deepened her relationship to the natural world and sharpened her observational skills, which she continues to refine as a commuting professor in Ohio and traveling artist throughout the American West.
Margo Miller, her mother and godmother both highly respected high school art teachers, grew up in Medina surrounded by art materials, so perhaps it is not so surprising that she went on to earn art degrees from the University of Akron (B.F.A.) and then Kent State University (M.F.A.). She has taught at Youngstown State University, the Cleveland Institute of Art, the University of Akron, and then at Mount Union University since 2004, where she holds the art and visual media department's Dr. Robert T. and Phyllis S. White Endowed Chair and is an Associate Professor. She lectures on art and on teaching as part of her professional practice, which has included administration, campus service, and gallery curatorship, as well as having actively participated in national conversations about art and teaching art in post-secondary settings.
This substantial painting is one of many with landscape as their subject, and in particular, the immense western American landscapes, that Miller completed during sabbatical and research leaves which coincided with the first months of the pandemic.
Where you can see more of this artist's work:
Margo Miller has exhibited widely in Ohio, including several times in the Butler Art Institute's annual national midyear show, and in early 2022 a big solo show of her landscapes (and some interiors) in the Sally Otto Art Gallery in the Giese Center for the Performing Arts at Mount Union University. In addition, she has work in numerous corporate collections -- including Akron Children's Hospital, the Federal Reserve Bank in Cleveland, Kaiser Permanente, and Mars horse Care, Inc, in Dalton, Ohio -- and in many private collections in Ohio, California, Florida, Colorado, Nevada, and North Carolina. She has been represented by Bonfoey Gallery in Cleveland.
Where you can see more works like this:
The broad vistas of the American west have other interpreters in the Summa Collection: see the work of Matt Hammerstein, while other landscapes that contain abstract elements can be found in the work of George Kozmon and in certain paintings by R. Joseph Culley. Other painters and photographers in the Summa Collection have dealt with broad sweeps of Ohio and other midwestern or eastern landscapes, such as Ian Adams and R. Scott Pease.