Stepping into cozy Kleven Contemporary, an adorable gallery-nook nestled in downtown’s Emergency Arts, I’m curious to meet the Vegas artist responsible for the acrylic-and-wood pieces on the walls. T.G. Miller, I think to myself. I wonder who he or she is and why I’ve never heard the name before.
Imagine my surprise when in saunters a rock ’n’ roll animal, Black Camaro guitarist Tom Miller, whom I’ve seen and heard play onstage many times with his psyche-pop band in situations as bizarre as a sweet-16 party in an Arizona Charlie’s ballroom.
“Tom?” I say. “You’re an artist?”
“You’re a writer?” he quips.
Turns out T.G.—middle name: Gilbert—graduated from UNLV in 2001 with a bachelor’s degree in art, studying painting with professors Jim Pink, Tom Holder and Bill Leaf, and with art and culture critic Dave Hickey (who then taught at UNLV). Hickey’s influence is apparent in Miller’s clean, attractive, design-heavy works that comprise his first solo Kleven exhibit, Acrylic Satanic. Miller is a punked-up, black-metal version of Hickey protégé Tim Bavington, whose stripe paintings, titled after rock tunes, translate song dynamics into color bands. Miller, by contrast, blends the synthetic (acrylic) and the organic (wood) to evoke clean decay, tidy aggression, pretty chaos.
“When Hickey joined UNLV, he saved me,” Miller says. “He’d tell me, ‘Just make art, make it look cool and don’t worry about what you’re saying. And, God, don’t write a long-winded artist’s statement that’s full of shit. Make what you make, make 10 of them and move on.’ Then he’d flick cigarette ash on me.”
The advice was liberating. Acrylic Satanic sports four roughly 15-by-40-inch works—a triptych, a diptych and two single-panel works. Miller’s decadelong stint as a print-shop employee is evident in the commercial-signage traits. Indeed, in print jobs for hotel-casinos, photos are mounted on or framed by acrylic. Miller intended to make synthetic polymer the subject rather than a carrier.
“Few use acrylic as a medium,” he says. “It’s something to put your prints behind. I wanted a way to present acrylic differently. Since I’ve been working with it for 10 years, I thought I could figure it out.”
He did. Each of his resulting works is simultaneously unique and familiar. “Infantric Satanic,” for instance, emanates military-green aggression with a Red Army-toned, Stardust-sign flake glowing in the center, a pulsing wound. The piece’s overall shape and design recall the iconic Atari “Fuji” logo, adding a nostalgic touch to what might be a soft critique of war-gaming.
Then there’s “Neocitric Satanic,” with a blood-orange aura of citrus-based evil, and “Pan-Creatic Satanic,” its murky hues suggesting sepsis, failure. “Anesthetic Satanic,” with its gangrenous ends, reminds us that the structure that contains Kleven was once a medical clinic, the room we’ve gathered in formerly used to examine patients.
All of it ominous, yet hardly devilish. Then again, it could be argued that the wood, while purchased cheaply at Home Depot, signifies pagan nature, even as the neat, vibrant acrylic elements symbolize forbidden fruit, decadent candy.
“The title sounds poetic,” says Miller, who, as the son of a helicopter pilot, grew up on military bases in Southeast Asia. “This wouldn’t work with a bunch of pentagrams.”
Miller’s previous shows were more painting-focused and were displayed in venues such as Hillary Salon and the common area of Emergency Arts. Satanic marks his debut in a proper gallery. Because his work here cuts across artistic tags—sculptural, conceptual, painterly, photographic—it seems Miller has reached a new plateau. He isn’t likely to remain on it.
“Sometimes you want to put things to rest and move on,” he says. “Finish your set and get to the next gig. When it’s over, you don’t want to hang out.”
Spoken like a true rock ’n’ roll animal.