First published: Winter 2015
What is so compelling about an artist using text? Perhaps it reminds us of the communicative power of art, its capacity to transcend the culture or circumstances of the maker and to forge a direct and vital link with a viewer.
The simple marks and the forms of the words and letters become compelling graphic elements, familiar signifiers that offer us a code into the meaning of what we are seeing.
When the formal qualities of such a work are also aesthetically gripping, comprised of text components that tantalise us with beautiful and urgent lines, the impact of the work can be even more startling. Such is the experience of a Dan Miller work.
Untitled, Dan Miller, 2015, ink and acrylic paint on paper, 58 x 42 ins. / 147.3 x 106.7 cm
Born in Castro Valley, California in 1961, Miller has been working at Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland, California, since 1982. Creative Growth is one of the world’s first art centres for people with developmental disabilities. Founded in 1974, the centre serves 160 adult artists every week and has a mission to foster the aesthetic development of people with disabilities in the visual arts.
At the time of Miller’s birth, children born on the autistic spectrum received little understanding or early intervention. Yet Miller’s grandmother proved to be a prescient and positive influence on his development. A school teacher herself, she would spend evenings with the young boy at home, teaching him to read or spell, repeating letters and words over and over again, hoping that he would develop reading and writing skills. Her work proved to be a large influence on what was to become a significant body of work built upon obsessive overlays and repetitions of words, letters and numbers.
Prior to Miller’s arrival at Creative Growth, his sister, Cara Miller, describes his early, lifelong interest in drawing. “Anytime there were pens and paper, he picked them up and went to town”, she said. “But Creative Growth helped develop Danny’s work. He has always drawn, sometimes furiously, but the works he has been producing at Creative Growth are stunning and beautiful. It only happens there. I’ve not seen the things he does at home to be nearly as complete as what he does at Creative Growth.”