“Endure” has an interesting etymology. It morphs from the Proto-Indo-European root *deru, meaning “be firm, solid, steadfast,” into Latin’s indurare, meaning “to make hard” or “harden (the heart) against.” In 12th century French endurer meant “to make hard, harden, bear, tolerate, keep up, maintain.” In 14th century English we have “to continue in existence” and “to undergo or suffer (especially without breaking)”.¹
Children endure in the face of social issues, rigid gender expectations, lack of power, changing technology, and the transitional nature of childhood. They become harder, both in the sense of stronger and more knowing, but also less flexible, more “set in stone.” Their identities solidify as they endure the pressures of the society in which they live.
Life-Size Figure Paintings
The first time I painted a child on a monochrome background was Girl on Blue in 2010. I didn’t know at the time that it would become a series four years later. I found myself drawn again to imagery surrounding ascension, resurrection, floating, flying, and falling, along with vaguely Christ-like poses. The flat, matte color fields are reminiscent of the flat gold leaf background in Medieval European painting. I like that they decontextualize the lifelike figures and create a “non-space” for them to inhabit.
Each of the paintings consists of a child figure, life-size or slightly larger, painted in oil and finished with a gloss varnish. The color fields are achieved with either oil, acrylic, or some layered combination thereof. They are matte, uniform, and free of texture or irregularity. I experimented with a variety of tools to achieve the effect, including brush, roller, and finally, high-volume low-pressure house paint sprayer.
The imagery in A Young Lady Adorned with Beads and Girl Bound in Ribbons and Beads connects the bejeweled, status-symbol Renaissance-era portraits of royalty and aristocracy to today’s culture of consumption and the profusion of mass-produced, inexpensive goods. Cheap plastic beads and other big-box store craft supplies function as markers of gender and status.
The overload of adornments suggests how appearance and beauty have become the socially dominant measures of worth for women and girls. It also addresses how the all-pervasive pressure on girls to adorn their bodies with manufactured trappings of beauty begins at increasingly younger ages.
– Katie Miller 2014
¹Harper, D. (2014). Endure. Retrieved from http://www.etymonline.com
Press Release by Jamie L. Smith, PhD
CONNERSMITH is pleased to present Katie Miller’s second solo exhibition with the Gallery. “Enduring” features a new series of portraits painted in oil on wood panel. Miller’s works have been likened to those of John Currin and Lisa Yuskavage, yet her latest paintings engage more deeply with the master works of Hans Memling, Titian, and Bronzino.
In these paintings Miller depicts children in brilliant colors and astonishing detail. Situating live models in historically inspired poses, the artist renders breathtaking visions of contemporary youthfulness within timeless contexts. Miller’s bust- and half-length portraits of preadolescent girls and boys recall canonical portrayals of rulers and aristocrats. Her larger, full-length portraits secularize the vertical energy of resurrection and assumption scenes in Renaissance altarpieces. Nuanced emotions in the children’s faces intensify the power and mystery inherent in the paintings’ compositions.
Miller augments her young subjects with trendy accessories – toys, beads, costumes, and electronic gadgets. These common trappings of the hyper-present provoke the hierarchical formats of the past, emphasizing that “Enduring” means both long lasting and able to withstand duress. Miller draws from an age-old artistic tradition to create imagery that alludes to pressures experienced by present-day youth. Her fine brushwork produces smooth, gemlike surfaces. Subtle expressions of self-awareness reveal each child’s state of transition from childhood to adulthood. The models’ dispositions and adornments suggest that children currently face challenges such as social issues, gender expectations, power struggles, and technological absorption. If, as they endure these pressures, boys and girls become more knowing, they may also become hardened, like the alluring, impermeable pigments in which the artist portrayed them.
Katie Miller’s works are in the following collections: The Rubell Family Collection, Miami; 21C Museum, Louisville; Ognibene Collection, Washington, DC; among others.
—Jamie L. Smith, Ph.D
Press Release for “Enduring” at CONNERSMITH, 2014