Preparing for his current exhibit, Michael Barton Miller used a hair dryer to push puddles of paint around on the slick vellum he uses as canvas.
“It’s like you’re herding something,” said Miller, who had fun with the process.
Having to switch hands occasionally, he was reminded of his kindergarten days, when he arbitrarily used each hand to color with.
His teacher made him decide which hand to use, and he picked his left. “The teacher told me to sit on my right hand” as a reminder, and at age 62, Miller occasionally catches himself doing so as he works.
This awkward-appearing habit hasn’t hindered him apparently, as he now is an art professor at Cal Poly.
For his solo show at Cuesta College, Miller incorporates figurative drawings in graphite and watercolor, focusing on various communication methods, from handwritten letters to telephones, and showing connections between former and current technology.
The show, titled “Super 8mm,” isn’t directly related to film, although he hopes each art piece connects to the next, as do movie scenes.
Miller was part of a film collective in Berkeley, and later made documentaries in Peru, so film is close to his heart. He will often start his day by watching a foreign film for inspiration. Some of the work in his show was triggered by films, especially what for Miller was a haunting scene in a Tarkovsky movie, “Mirror.”
Each work is carefully thought out in terms of symbolism and content, however Miller wants the viewers to come up with their own interpretations.
As the director of his movielike art, Miller had the young men and women models relax by meditating or listening to music, then got to know them better. His subjects’ sensitive facial expressions are the result of this technique.
A comic fan, Miller uses black artist’s tape to create a framework and background in such works as “Field Recording,” for a partial comic-book effect. The thick bold lines also symbolize what he considers the sleek modern black and white of Western technology juxtaposed with what he calls the “sweetness” of watercolors that he associates with Thailand, which the Los Osos resident often visits.
Although Miller has a clear picture of what he wants to express in his art, none of the images manifest fully formed from his imagination, as he’d often wake up in the middle of the night with another change. “Like a good writer, I was constantly revising,” he said.
Along with film, comics and meditation, poetry is among Miller’s myriad interests. He considers four of the art pieces in the show to be visual haiku, in terms of images that work with each other, combining the heart and the mind.
Always open to symbolism in his life as well as in the outer world, Miller tells of emerging from a Thailand cab on a day so hot and humid that his glasses fogged up.
“It’s telling me something about life,” he recalled, “that I’m blind and I need to look.”
Among his works is “Blind Spot,” which he explains as “an opening that allows us in” to the unknown.