Artist Spotlight: Melissa Miller (American, b. 1951)

broken wing

Melissa Miller, Broken Wing, 1986. Oil on linen. 58 x 66 1/2 inches (147.3 x 169 cm). National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Laura Lee and Jack S. Blanton and The Lois Pollard Price Acquisition Fund

For this pre-Halloween week’s artist we’re taking a look at the painter of one of the staff’s favorite pieces from Telling Secrets – the visceral and rather scary Broken Wing by Melissa Miller.

An initial glance at Broken Wing elicits definitions of struggle, fear, and urgency. The ruffled feathers and twisted posture of the swan contain a subtext of disrupted elegance or beauty. Upon a further glance we see the demons and skeletons writhing in the background – egging on the ghoul breaking the wing? chasing the swan? fleeing? –  and the message of death becomes plain. Even more mysterious are the gigantic swooping owl in the far background, the lion-like face in the foreground, and the spectral hands emerging from the ground to reach for the swan – what are their roles? Symbolism aside, their contribution to the dark mood of the painting is spine-chillingly brilliant once you notice them.

Miller was born in Houston, Texas and has lived in Austin for most of her life. She began to teach herself how to paint after attending Yale’s Summer School of Music and Art after graduating from the University of New Mexico in 1974. She spends much time alone, drawing imagery from her surroundings and her own imagination and emotions.

Miller’s paintings are clearly very internalized in subject matter. They speak in metaphor with animals acting as symbols for greater narratives and emotions. She reaches into the realm of magical realism and mythology to express the progression of her own life and the increasing complexity of life as it moves forward. Her work, as a reflection of herself as an individual, reflects on the complexities and mysteries of the human existence: “My painting roots are in the abstract expressionist movement and many of the same concerns have remained important to me over the years…I believe in the power of paint, not only to create a convincing illusion, but to prompt a visceral emotional response in the viewer.”

Come see Broken Wing in all its bone-chilling glory at Telling Secrets and pick up a scavenger hunt – we’ll be picking our October winners today. Happy Halloween!

About the Author: Carolanne Bonanno is NMWA’s communications and publishing intern.