The Dominican University Performing Arts Center is currently exhibiting the painting of artist and jazz singer Roberta Miles. She explains her process in her artist's statement: "I combine ground metal, in its base form, with pigment in an attempt to create a life affirming, multi-layered, ethereal dream."
The heavy emphasis on the elements of color and light, reflected by the ground-up metal in the paint, is very reminiscent of the art of the impressionists. But this is a sort of post-modern impressionism. The impression of light rippling on water remains, but the subject matter is gone.
These works are about as completely abstract as it's possible to get. Even a line painted on a page or a circle is something that the viewer can define or understand?#34;a geometric shape instead of a picture of a natural object, but still something. Miles' art doesn't even give us this much to grasp onto. It's vague and ethereal, yet what is most striking about her work, perhaps reflecting her background as a singer, is its strong musical quality.
The subtle play of light on our eyes is like the subtle play of sound on our ears in a musical performance. Like notes, the light is constantly shifting, always surprising. Examine the pictures from different angles, and even more dramatic changes occur. The blending of light with shifting hues and shades of color is like the blending of melody with tone and rhythm. The technique of layering colors, so that little bits of red or burgundy might appear from underneath blue, for example, gives the impression of harmony and chords.
Feelings are transformed into color. Blues weave in and out among yellows and pinks, like the weaving together of darkness and light. Imaginary trails and tracks lead into the darkness, reaching into deeper, unconscious recesses. Or, as in
"Alchemy #15," the impression is that light is entering and filling a space of darkness, as music might fill our minds.
Music has often been considered the most spiritual of the art forms, and there certainly appears to be a strong spiritual aspect to Miles' paintings. It wouldn't be a leap to recall that light, or an inner light, is a frequent image among many religions for God or for the experience of wisdom. There's something primordial being suggested, perhaps the void or the time before creation. As in music, where one note passes into another, one color passes into another in these paintings, suggesting the transience of life and earthly experience and the possibility of an afterlife.
Explaining the title of her series, "Alchemy," Miles writes, "In ancient manuscripts from the fourth century, alchemists wrote in obscure terms of infusing matter with spirit and rendering the spirit material. They blurred the lines between science and magic. This was their 'opus magnum' or 'great work.'"
Roberta Miles' paintings will be on exhibit at the Dominican University Performing Arts Center at 7900 W. Division St. in River Forest through Sept. 30. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Friday from 12 to 6 p.m. or by appointment through representative Dawn Ferencak at (773) 622-0324.
Art critic Anna Poplawska's own work is on display in a group show, "People Speaking," through Oct. 14 at The Stephen Kelly Gallery, 750 North Franklin, Chicago. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.