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The art code
By Janet Seitz Carlson

Mike Miller’s brush exudes technology as he paints in punctuated pixels. He sees art at a molecular level and makes prints in code.

The University of Illinois Springfield associate art professor sees a digital world rendered in traditional art methods and art executed through technology. 

Miller, like other UIS art faculty members, is a working artist recognized for art and teaching achievements with a long list of exhibitions. The Indiana native grew up in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and arrived in Springfield in 2002 for his position teaching drawing, painting and printmaking. 

“As a young person, I was taken with the abstract expressionists because of the immediacy and emotion in their works,” says Miller, 40. “It changed my idea of what art could be. I was good at drawing but didn’t just want to re-create what I saw. I responded to the raw energy in their work.”  

Today he is influenced by engineers, geneticists, nanotechnicians, computer science and machines. 

“I’m interested in working with people who aren’t artists. It’s fascinating to learn how to create from other sources.”

“I look at digital sources and then fold them back into traditional processes,” Miller says. For example, a pixelated image is transferred to a copper plate for printmaking on paper or may be screen printed onto a canvas. 

A burst is an often-studied image for Miller, who gathers examples of energy release from science ranging from microscopic collisions to fireworks to explosions. 

“It’s a nice metaphor for the creative process.”

In one process with the burst image, Miller makes color separations in Photoshop. He then recreates and recombines these color layers onto a canvas using traditional oil-glazing techniques. 

In that negotiation between machine and hand, Miller is interested in what others see. 

“There are ways of representing the world … things you can’t resolve through technology … human striving, our emotional lives, a whimsical gesture. I want to know what people want from technology.” 

The burst erupts again in a soft, fibrous Japanese unryu paper in which the digitized image is laser-cut. 

“The paper is organic and handmade, but the pixelated burst is cut in a high-tech way. It’s one of the more exciting things I did in my residency at the University of Oregon,” Miller says. 

The experience included working with rapid-prototyping machines. With a 3-D printer using a fused deposition modeling process to “print” liquid plastic into solid, he created molecular forms. 

“We’re artists, so we try to push limits … we ask machines to do things never intended by the engineers who designed them.”

Miller enjoys pushing creativity by bringing old and new together. Inspired by a discussion with a computer scientist about code and computer language, the “Bubble sort” algorithm surfaced. This data sorting may be written by programmers in different ways much like two drivers may have the same start point but take different paths to the same destination. 

Miller’s interpretation begins with a code noted in handwritten “type” etched to copper plate for printing and plans 10 editions. 

“It’s a wall of babble in a way. You might be able to see relationships in an otherwise indecipherable expanse of text. It draws attention to an overlooked form of language.” 

“Computer science is an underlying force in most of our communications today,” Miller says. “It’s exciting. Art and technology are always linked. Artists are always making use of the latest technology … I don’t think artists are lone geniuses producing master works. They’re people asking questions about themselves and society, and the questions become richer as more people join in the conversation.”

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Story published Friday, May 7, 2010 ( Volume 5, Number 3 )

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