EMILY MARIE MILLER
“Archetypal Dark Feminine”
Miller works often from her own body, embodying the archetypes she is interested in. She performs these in her paintings. Her work produces a certain identity or point of reference “young, white, female, with indicators of socioeconomic class” with a vague face to allow focus to shift from the individual depicted.
“The story is the darkness of turning inward, a group becoming self reflective about itself within a larger power structure.”
EMILY - Tell me about your artist story. I know you are currently represented by Unit London. Tell me about your journey to where you are now?
Art wasn’t a big part of my environment growing up save some Bougereau prints my mom had hung around the house. I’ve been very committed to art since I began choosing my own path and listening to my own values in college. I studied sculpture and photography at the university of Florida, building & documenting installations that I could perform within using my body. As far as I’m concerned, the content of my work has essentially been the same since that time - using my body as a vehicle for a performance of “the fall.”
After graduation I rented a studio in St Petersburg, Florida in exchange for an internship taking care of the studio complex. I spent 2 years learning how to paint and hosting/attending figure drawing sessions at my studio complex every Tuesday. During that time my mentors introduced me to the local art community, and I learned what it was like to be a practicing artist. A lot less “starving artists” and a lot more “nobody’s coming to save you so you better save yourself.”
I moved to New York in 2015 at age 23. Seeing art in person in New York propelled me to reach for new heights. The caliber of work was so impressive; it was amazing to see the texture and feeling of a painting in person. I focused on learning and took art assisting jobs over the next few years with Tim Okamura, Erik Jones, Taeyoon Choi, and Todd Bienvenu. Like every opportunity in New York, I got those jobs by going out to art events and introducing myself.
I found connection and community in 2018 with the NYC Crit Club and Lady Painters parties. At the same time, my work got noticed on Instagram by Danny Moynihan and I was offered a place in an exciting group show at Kasmin Gallery curated by Yvonne Force. Since then, things have been moving pretty fast. I did my solo with Barney Savage Gallery in TriBeCa last year, and began a relationship with Unit early this year.
What is your studio like? Where do you like to create best? What are your artist necessities? What could you not live without?
I’ve had 6 different studios since moving to New York. Currently I’m working from home. I feel very private in the studio and prefer working alone. In the studio I need tidiness, a big glass palette set-up, and music.
Quick one, what 3 words would you use to describe your artwork?
Archetypal Dark Feminine
PERFECT - AND What do you want your work to say? What are the main themes and motifs running through your work?
I’m interested in archetypes, storytelling, and fairytales as a form of reflection on the human condition or describing a spiritual initiation. As a woman raised in a Republican upper middle class household in Florida, I’m interested in the power dynamics of white womanhood. I’m interested in social ritual and costume, and how these things contribute to the consecration of power.
SO EMILY - If you could have a meal with any artist from any time, what would the meal be and who would it be with?
I would dine with Hieronymous Bosch outside in the country with an overflowing cornucopia of earthly delights.
THAT WOULD BE INCREDIBLE. SPEEKING OF OVERFLOWING, Tell me about your palette. Is colour important to you?
Color is very important, it feels like it will be a lifelong endeavor to get to the right palette. Right now I use a classical palette, and the values are pulled more towards the middle. I’ll be introducing more color in my work soon, but I want to be deliberate about it.
I am such a huge fan of your work Emily. I had an immediate response of awe, and also interest in the subjects and the stories behind them. Tell me, what memorable responses have you had to your work? And which artwork would you like people to remember you for?
Memorably, in the beginning I had a lot of criticism about working primarily in self portraiture, especially when I lived in Florida. Some people seem to think that’s selfish in a negative way but I disagree. My sexual, powerful female figures unsurprisingly bring in some negative reactions. The people who appreciate my work are people who are drawn to the dark feminine archetype in whatever capacity. I think my work is quite accessible. I would like to be remembered for guiding people to explore their own “underground terrain” in whatever way is personally resonant.
Who are the subjects in your work? What are their stories?
I work from my own body because I feel that I can embody the archetypes I’m interested in and perform them the best for my paintings. I purposely generalize the faces so that the viewer can project upon the figures. The resultant figures are left with a certain identity or point of reference - young, white, female, with indicators of socioeconomic class. The vagueness of each face allows for the focus to be moved off of the individual, and towards a discussion about an identity group. The story is the darkness of turning inward, a group becoming self reflective about itself within a larger power structure. In this respect my subject matter was crystallized by the voting habits of white women in 2016.
How do you think your work has developed throughout your career? And what are your artist career highlights?
I’ve been making work consistently since I was 18, and over that time I’ve tried a lot of different mediums. Oil painting is my true love but especially when coupled with photography and performance. It took me a while to figure that out. What interests me is that I’ve been essentially telling the same story in different forms from the beginning. Over the years I’ve learned to be more disciplined about my painting which has helped my work tremendously.
Being in the group show Seed, curated by Yvonne Force at Kasmin gallery in 2018 was a dream come true and a definite highlight. I had the opportunity to show with artists I idolized and that experience connected me to so many amazing people.
What are you working on at the moment Emily? And what would be your dream project?
I just finished a solo show that’s opening in September at Unit London, it’s called Mirror, Mirror. I am living my dream right now by being given the opportunity to show my work. Another dream is to publish a book one day.
What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
I grew up with two mutually exclusive lives split between my mom in Florida and my dad in Pennsylvania.
Favourite historical female artist?
Ana Mendieta, Carolee Schneemann, and Louise Bourgeois are from the recent past but have helped me understand my own work.
Favourite current practicing female artist?
Lisa Yuskavage has paved the way for us art hoes. I’m a big fan of Caitlin Cherry and Sophia Narrett.
Who should She Curates interview next?
My girl Kelsey Shwetz!
Is there anything else you wanted to say?
As covid has turned us away from meeting in person, I’m so grateful for the space to exist online. I’m grateful to have Unit and others like yourself advocating for me and my work. I sincerely hope the online friendships I’ve made during this time translate irl. I feel very inspired by the artists in my community, and I can’t wait to see everyone (and their work) in person again.