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Bruce Miller uses unconventional media in his SLOMA exhibition, Transforming Matter 

Travel-sized hotel shampoos. Old cellphone cords with nothing to charge. Stuffed animals that hold too much nostalgia to throw away. These are items that we all seem to amass over time: crammed into bathroom cabinets, pushed to the back of junk drawers, or stored in a dark corner of the attic. For most of us, these objects collect dust and serve little purpose.

But for local Bruce Miller, these miscellaneous items are his artistic media. Miller's San Luis Obispo Museum of Art exhibition, Transforming Matter, features a series of sculptural- and canvas-based pieces that transform familiar objects into unexpected art.

"There was always the thought that they had some purpose in the future," Miller told New Times. "Everything here is the result of something that had accumulated over time. It was about wanting to utilize what was already there."

click to enlarge UNTITLED Bruce Miller said he has moved away from titling his pieces over the years in the interest of removing all bias from the viewing experience. This piece uses gold flakes to create a window-like image. - PHOTOS COURTESY OF BRUCE MILLER
  • Photos Courtesy Of Bruce Miller
  • UNTITLED Bruce Miller said he has moved away from titling his pieces over the years in the interest of removing all bias from the viewing experience. This piece uses gold flakes to create a window-like image.

The centerpiece of the exhibit is the largest and most three-dimensional work in the space. Sitting upon a box shrouded in a black cloth, a pile of stuffed animals covered and held together by a rope net make for a colorful and eye-drawing sculpture. Up close, the objects feel familiarly nostalgic: It looks like a collection of stuffed animals many of us once kept in our childhood bedroom. But taken as a whole, Miller has managed to shift that familiar frame, resulting in something that feels eclectic, chaotic, and strange—reactions that Miller said he is aiming for with the exhibit.

On opening night, Miller said he stood intentionally incognito among the gallery observers. One response in particular resonated with his intentions for the collection.

"A young woman looked at this piece and her comment was, 'From something familiar to something strange.' It was completely, exactly what it says to me," Miller said. "It was very gratifying that someone understood it on the same terms that I understood it."

The pieces range from box frames to textural canvases to smaller sculptures and even photography. A man of many media, Miller said his first introduction to the art world was through photography in the '70s. Despite how long he has worked creatively, though, Miller is wary to define himself as an artist.

"I don't really consider myself an artist—I'm just a person who makes art. I think there's a difference and a distinction," he said. "It's about visualizing something and having it become reality."

Miller said that he wants to allow the viewers to discover the meaning of his work through their own interpretation.

"Instead of hand delivering things, it lets the viewers find it themselves," he said. "That's why there's no titles, no explanations. ... They're all made up anyways, and it creates a bias. I prefer work that's not titled."

While the stuffed animal sculpture is large, colorful, and playful, Miller's other pieces in the exhibit are generally more monochromatic. One black canvas on the wall features hundreds of entangled black electronics cords secured to the front—a few cobalt blue cords add a sense of order, dimension and intentionality to the entwined mass.

In another corner of the exhibit, the viewer will find a different household object: a single bar of gray soap. The soap is dried out to the point that it has deep cracks and crevices. Like the phone cords, it looks like something that's been sitting unused in a home but hasn't quite reached the tipping point that would prompt its owner to throw it away.

click to enlarge MULTI-MEDIA Bruce Miller's Transforming Matter exhibit features both sculptures and two-dimensional pieces. While many of his sculptures use everyday objects as their medium, this one takes a different approach. - PHOTOS COURTESY OF BRUCE MILLER
  • Photos Courtesy Of Bruce Miller
  • MULTI-MEDIA Bruce Miller's Transforming Matter exhibit features both sculptures and two-dimensional pieces. While many of his sculptures use everyday objects as their medium, this one takes a different approach.

But once again, Miller has transformed it into something new: He's placed it upon a reflective pedestal inside a clear cube. Then, on a nearby wall, one can find sharp, zoomed-in photographs of the same object, though it's not immediately recognizable as such.

"By putting an object behind glass or under a box, it makes it potentially more important than it is," Miller said.

Furthermore, by placing the accompanying photographs on a separate wall, the art speaks for itself, without explanation, he said.

As for his inspiration behind the exhibit, Miller said it's the materials that guide him more than anything else.

"You have something envisioned in your mind, and it's then a matter of trying to figure out how to put it into a form," Miller said. "It takes a long time to get to the beginning, and once there's a beginning, then you end up in the destination. Starting is the hardest part.

"Maybe it's all about life at the same time: about getting ourselves moving." Δ

Arts Writer Malea Martin is finding a new purpose for old objects. Send arts story tips to mmartin@newtimesslo.com.

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