Neil Miller’s sculptural practice is informed by the Constructivist movement, which originated in Russia in the early 20th century. An aim of Constructivism was to create abstract sculpture suitable for an industrialized society. It is typically characterized by the use of industrial materials, such as glass, plastic, and standardized metal parts arranged in clear formal relationships, and it advocated a move away from the traditional techniques of modelling and carving.
The Constructivist influence can be seen Miller’s sculpture in the Auckland Domain. Celebrating contemporary materials, it is a soaring open-tripod built of steel extrusions that have been welded and bolted together; it is a structure which whispers of Tatlin’s Tower.
The title of Neil Miller’s latest exhibition, I’m Never Going Back to My Old School, signals a shift from constructions in steel to working with bronze, as well as the growth and development of Miller’s artistic oeuvre. It is a curious title, as it speaks of growing-up and maturing, while using a slightly anarchistic tone. The tone is important; bronze is steeped in tradition, and thus has associations with the past, and could be seen as stepping back from his more contemporary practice. But Neil Miller has approached bronze on his own terms.
After attending a summer workshop at Corban Estate Art Centre in January 2006, Miller was captivated by the wax-work that is the basis of bronze sculpture. Soon after he established a small bronze foundry at his studio and in doing so discovered a process that allows a direct and intuitive approach to constructive sculpture. The wax sculptures are rapidly constructed with the hot knife from pre-cast sections, allowing for an intuitive and expressive process akin to drawing.
The resultant works are tall and linear. Balanced on a single point, they capture a moment in time; an escalation point where the object seems to be pushed to its limits of balance, while also displaying a moment of fragility. This precarious state lends itself to an analogy of a well-known Greek myth, causing Miller to name some early works ‘Icarus’. As the story goes, in order to escape from King Minos, Daedalus fashioned two pairs of wings out of wax and feathers for himself and his son, Icarus. Daedalus warned his son not to fly too close to the sun but, overcome by the giddiness of flight, Icarus soared high into the sky. The heat from the sun melted the wax and Icarus plummeted to his death. The Icarus sculptures are forever poised on the brink of collapse and at the peak of ascension, and through this tension Miller captures both the dynamic nature of Constructivism and the beauty of classical sculpture.
The works which comprise this exhibition are the subject of an article by Elizabeth Rankin in Art New Zealand Issue 131, Winter 2009.