Nothing boring in this `Paper Work'

Artist's mixed media on display in Denver

Sonya Ellingboe
Visiting artist Liz Miller created a floor to ceiling sculptural installation from paper at the CVA. Title: “Splendiferous Jungle Warfare.”
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“My mixed media installations and drawings recontextualize simplified shapes, signs and symbols from disparate historical and contemporary imagery to create abstract fictions,” says artist Liz Miller. “Recent projects pit Baroque and Gothic pattern and ornament against forms derived from weapons and weaponry …”

Miller spoke about her career in art that brought her to create “Splendiferous Jungle Warfare,” the intricate installation that rose behind her June 19 at the Center for Visual Art in Denver's Santa Fe Arts District, after she spent the week assembling it onsite as part of a new exhibit, “Paper Work.”

Miller, who describes herself as “professor and working artist,” teaches art at Minnesota State University, Mankato, full time and travels throughout the country installing her large, intricately designed sculptural works, executed in mixed media.

She does the preliminary cutting, shaping and spray-painting in her studio and ships the elements to be assembled.

She showed slides of early work, such as paintings and collages from graduate school:

“I did hundreds of them, 8½ by 11, looking for pattern. The palette was not necessarily traditional. I looked at charts, graphs, diagrams that make sense of things that are chaotic ….” (She added that her parents are computer scientists.) An example of something of interest was a Hurricane Katrina map. Others were biological shapes.

She received her BFA in painting from Rhode Island School of Design and her MFA from the University of Minnesota.

Her first installation was in 2004 — “Fairly flat, dealing with order and chaos…” She discovered stiffened felt, used in some constructions, and was inspired by an overgrowth of kudzu vine to create “Function of Ornament.” She showed a series of slides that inspired her art, including one of soldiers' helmets surrounded by lush jungle growth — the start of the new work at CVA.

The viewer will no doubt have a series of impressions, as this one did: Are those military figures at the rear — or tropical trees and vines? Are there birds perched in trees? Blossoms? Projectiles? And spread on the floor: undergrowth or …? With such a bright palette, how can there be anything sinister here?

The audience had questions about her process: Does she sketch, diagram or build a model? Does she reuse or recreate from her materials such as those used here?

She starts with an idea and builds it — no preliminary sketches or models. She ships the elements to the awaiting gallery and goes to work fitting it in place. She was pleased with the red walls at the CVA as a satisfactory background for her brightly hued design elements.

She does not reuse the materials, but has given them away for a school to recycle/reuse. The works are after all, temporary — preserved in photos only. This quality is seen in numerous contemporary works, but causes rethinking to art students — and former art students — who have been drilled on using archival paper, etc., so works will be long-lasting.

If you go:

The “Paper Work” exhibit at the Center for Visual Art, Metropolitan State University's gallery at 965 Santa Fe Drive, Denver, will run through Aug. 2. On July 10 from 6-8 p.m., Anne Hallam, assistant professor of art, and Dr. Ben Dyhr, assistant professor of mathematics, will lead “Paper Manipulations: 3-D Investigations Workshop” from 6 to 8 p.m. Gallery hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, noon to 5 Saturdays. 303-294-5207. Admission is free. MetroStateCVA.org.