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Lewis Miller @ Australian Galleries

 

Lewis Miller Nude

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Lewis Miller @ Australian Galleries

Lewis Miller is undoubtedly among this country’s most outstanding portrait painters. His gifts in this genre are self-evident, and one hardly needs to list his Archibald and Moran accolades to appreciate his talents in this difficult metier. Therefore, I rushed over to see his current exhibition at the Australian Galleries, and like many of his previous shows, it features a cross-section of genres, in which Lewis excels – portraiture, nudes, and still lives.

Lewis’s favourite model is – has been, and by the looks of it will be in the foreseeable future – Hazel. They must have established a symbiotic relationship, for she has been appearing in his paintings for at least a decade. He must have painted her by now in every conceivable position and from every conceivable angle; he is probably so familiar with every curve of her body, every crevice and every cranny, that perhaps the actual act of modelling is no longer necessary, as he is probably able to recreate her form purely from his memory.

Lewis Miller Still LifeBut one cannot blame Lewis’s attachment to Hazel: she is generously endowed with a model’s body, with perfect curves of her hips, sinuous lines of her limbs, generous mounds of her breasts. Not having had the privilege to see the model in such intimate state of deshabille, it is also highly possible that by the time she makes it onto Miller’s finished canvas, her features have been regularised and idealised by the artist. She is superbly executed in every picture. Her limbs and torso are masterfully foreshortened in the ‘upside-down’ paintings; and delineated in assured and confident charcoal outlines that flow and undulate around the landscape of her body. Her skin tones are accented with broad brush strokes of skin-coloured pigments, from deep ochres to most delicately effervescent pinks. Large expanses of linen, left exposed by the artist, superbly recreate the textures of her skin as well as of the sheets on which she poses.

Lewis Miller Fish Sea SnailLewis’s still lives could not be faulted either. Lemons, peaches, quinces, pomegranates, and apricots; pilchard, oysters, molluscs and all kinds of fruits de mer, chops and steaks and other cuts of meat are arranged in groups, combinations or by themselves, on canvasses and copper plates of various shapes and sizes, many a painting reminiscent of a Grecian thin and elongated decorative frieze. Lewis’s nature mortes still show a significant influence of Lucian Freud, of whom he is perhaps the most devoted disciple in this country. Freud’s style is perceptible in the thickly layered paint and richly textured surfaces, which, until a decade or so ago Miller also applied to the depiction of his models, though since then he developed his own pared down and raw style which shows off most advantageously his drawing skills and technical abilities.

Lewis Miller Self PortraitThere’s also a smattering of portraits by the entrance – an obligatory self-portrait or two, a couple of studies of Tom Alberts, and a portrait of a child, all predominantly painted en face, their gaze communicating directly with the viewer. Looking at these portraits, I was struck by the realisation that for at least a decade or so Miller retained the same format for every exhibition. It is always a smattering of nude, still life, and portrait studies. His portraits are frequently worked into larger finished compositions, which wow audiences when shown in Australia’s premier portraiture prizes. However, his nudes and still lives have never breeched that prime essence of being a study. One does begin to wonder whether the works of these genres – like his portraits – would ever lead to a crescendo, a seminal work, or a large scale masterpiece. His superb facility with the brush, colour, drawing, composition, foreshortening notwithstanding, it would be a pity for an artist of such obvious talents to spend the rest of his career on studies, sketches, and preparatory drawings.

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2011. This article is copyright, but full or partial use is welcome with proper acknowledgement. Where applicable, images are courtesy of the artists and their galleries.]

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Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg

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