Johnny Miller is a master of melancholy and the grotesque.
The personnel of his linocuts, collages and drawings consists of bizarre and tragic figures. They exhibit clownesque or animal-like features, are as small as midgets or big as giants. As agents of the subconscious, they represent diffidence in interpersonal encounters (Defending My Position, 2009) as well as physical and emotional inadequacies (The Piano Lesson, 2009).
With his new drawing series Shadows (2009), Miller enters the realm of the pathological finding. On twenty-nine sheets, he paints over tableaux illustrating Japanese healing methods. The pain zones of the human body indicated in these charts are marked with a luminous red. He covers the depictions – whether they be of the entire body, the torso, or just the head – with patterns in black and white. These drawings are comparable to elaborate body painting or tattoos. At the same time, a virtual X-ray view is granted here of the body’s interior. The varied light-dark areas resemble the lighter and darker zones of X-ray images. Miller’s shadowy beings are moreover equipped with objects such as masks, chains, needles or feathers.
Johnny Miller, who has lived and worked in Tokyo for many years, is well acquainted with Japanese tattoo art. Despite the fact that tattoos are extremely popular among teenagers there, people wearing them are stigmatized because they are still strongly associated with the shadowy realm of a criminal milieu: the Yakuza.
Miller’s very diverse pen-and-ink drawings, some of them featuring colour, frequently invite reading as reminiscences of the classical Japanese woodcut. In addition to the fluid lines and the absence of a central focus in his pictures, he also favours the artistic depiction of his beings’ inner natures over their realistic representation. At the same time, in Miller’s style and subjects we find echoes of British illustrations and caricatures of the Victorian age. The mishaps and transformations taking place in the dream-like world of Alice in Wonderland (1865) were visualized so pithily by their inventor Lewis Carroll and illustrator John Tenniel that the story’s title has even come to denote a clinical condition. The “Alice in Wonderland syndrome” designates an illness where the patient perceives himself or his surroundings in changed manner, often miniaturized or enlarged.
Johnny Miller’s powerful and richly associative images accord us a glimpse of the land “through the looking glass”. Through the medium of drawing, practised by the artist with consummate craftsmanship, his bizarre scenes, his peculiar and tragic protagonists, and the sombre mood which envelops his worlds attain the greatest authenticity and intensity.
(Text: Angelika Richter)