A conversation between Thierry Goldberg Gallery and Brittany Miller
Thierry Goldberg: What is your painting process like? How do you begin your work?
Brittany Miller: I always start a work with a charcoal drawing. I like to use charcoal as a way to get the figure down. The rest of the work usually comes through in paint. I like to surprise myself in that way because I don't always know what's going to happen.
TG: How did you arrive at this style for your work?
BM: Before painting I was working in sculpture. In my sculptural practice, I concentrated on making these intricate embroidered works. I started sewing as a kid and I love the process of stitching. I find its repetitive nature to be really therapeutic. I also love how you can use embroidery to make an image. In that same sense, I was always drawn to painting as well. The process of picture-making is very special to me and has always been something that I strove to do. There is so much that people can take away, connect, and reference from an image. When I started moving from pictures I was embroidering, to pictures I was painting, in a way I tried to mimic the feel of stitches with the paint.
TG: What would you say influences you and your practice?
BM: One thing outside of art that is a huge influence on me is literature. I am absolutely obsessed with books that deal with isolated figures in the midst of losing their minds. I love books by Clarice Lispector who writes about these solitary figures who don’t quite know what is real and what is not real. Kind of related, and separate, I was raised in fundamentalist Christianity so my whole childhood was very apocalyptic in nature. I was always told this was it, that you had to be ready. So I think that remains an interest, even though I no longer practice religion in that sense. In present times people have been feeling very isolated like the apocalypse is happening right around them. I'm personally always feeling that. It's almost like people are now joining me in how I was brought up in a world of isolation and fear.
TG: Does religion still play a role in your life?
BM: No. I have a deep interest in all the imagery and stories. It’s an inescapable deep part of me. I find that I now look at religion and its imagery through a different lens. To me, they're stories, and they do have significance as stories. The imagery has been imprinted in my mind and in many ways is still important to me, but it conjures a different kind of meaning now.
TG: Previously you mentioned your passion for literature. I noticed that in your paintings you often have the addition of an open or closed book. What is the intention behind that, and how do books operate in your work?
BM: Books are like little portals. I like to think of them as points of entry, places to exit and enter into my painting. I like the ambiguity they provide. The book can be simultaneously a place to enter or retreat into.
TG: Why do the books in your paintings often feature Angels painted upon their pages?
BM:Angels are a very interesting symbol to me that resonate in a variety of ways. As a child I was taught that Angels were there to help you, to save you. And now I think of it more as the mystical beings who are with us on this earth. They are memories of people who may no longer be in your life but you are impacted by them every day. In a way, it gives company to my figures. They are alone but never truly alone.
TG: Who do you choose to paint and why?
BM: You’ll notice that the same people are repeated in a lot of my works. Though I am in some of the works, I usually don’t paint myself fully. If I do, I paint myself on the edge, placing only a fraction of my body into the work. Basically, I struggle with painting people that I'm not in love with. Most of the figures are my best friends or my boyfriend. The people have to have a significance to me, I can not get to that space until I have an emotional connection with the person. I know these people. I know what they are experiencing. They are not really placeholders for me but I know what kind of otherness they might be experiencing. I know their feelings of isolation, their questioning of what is going on around them. It would be challenging for me to put a stranger in that situation because I am not privy to their internal experience in the same way.
TG: Do you work from photographs or imagined scenarios?
BM: I work from a combination. My boyfriend is in a lot of the work because he is always just making really great poses. A lot of my friends are actors and models which is helpful in the way that they naturally know how to move their bodies. I always take photos to work from because I want to spend a lot of time inventing. I'm not trying to capture what is exactly there. I want to cut and paste, compress and flatten the reality.
TG: Would you say that interior scenes are largely invented?
BM: I'll put people in places that start out with an element of reality-- a pillow, a couch, a bathtub, a bed. I’ll ask myself what it is that I want this space to do. I often leave certain framing devices like the couch, or the bed, but largely I want to be able to play around with what the space looks like. I also like to play with perspective. One way I do this is with the books, placing them at odd angles. I want to disorient the viewer so that they do not know exactly where they are supposed to be placed.
TG: Your figures tend to express a sense of solitude. Even when pictured together. As if they are lost in their own individual worlds. What are you trying to express in these moments? What is compelling about these moments of solitude for you?
BM: I personally have always felt very isolated, even when I have been in relationships. Just feeling connected can be hard. So, that is where my interest comes from. Even if someone is very physically close it doesn’t mean that you’re engaging in a connected moment.
TG: How long have you been working on this series?
BM: I have only been painting for a total of two years. I started at the beginning of 2020, which was actually really good. I just decided to learn how to paint and had this sustained time to really focus. I was going crazy in March and April. I was teaching preschoolers over zoom which was insane on its own. I would go to the park and take pictures of the geese and would paint that, which felt very safe. Once I understood how paint worked, I ventured into painting what I wanted to paint