Christopher Miles

Christopher Miles, installation view of “In Form: Sculpture by Christopher Miles,” with (foreground) Untitled (In Form Series Number 3, Vincent Price Oppenheimer Mullican revisited), 2018, glazed semi-vitreous ceramic, 32 x 20 x 24 in. Photo: Courtesy the artist

Santa Barbara, California

College of Creative Studies Gallery, University of California, Santa Barbara

Using fewer than a dozen relatively small objects presented on identical pedestals, Chris Miles succeeded in creating a genuinely destabilized arena within the conventional white cube exhibition space. His objects return the viewer’s gaze in various ways—passively, aggressively, with warmth or hostility. The nine dramatic structures constituting “In Form” so agitate their surroundings that they create a distinct atmosphere independent of the space itself. Animated, highly detailed, penetrated with holes, tube-like parts, glossy excrescences, and contrasts between interior and exterior, they demand an engaged, committed process of examination. Although each object is independent, intense similarities bind each to each—like a clonal colony, a visually rhizomatic installation, the works function as a single interrelated organism.

The individual sculptures exist in two states of being: in one, they appear as almost stereotypically expressionist ceramic objects; in the other, they manifest a far cooler, analytical side. They pit ideas of form against notions of formlessness and oppose the “intuitive” with the conceptual. This is an excellent but slippery state of being in that while appearing to be one thing, these objects come about for reasons different than those generally associated with conventional Modernist definitions of sculpture. Miles fabricates his works out of a curiosity about what constitutes their materiality, a state of inquiry into the nature of sculpture-making that includes the act of looking. His works are more about the desire to create an experience than about creating an object, more about finding ways to make the viewer examine objects that can’t be comprehended from a single viewpoint. Miles is very conscious of making peepholes, creating shifting points of view around the form. He’s aware of an aspect of voyeurism, of wanting to establish an intimate connection with viewers, drawing them in, asking them to examine the work closely.

Miles uses a medium that registers touch and produces visceral results; specifically, he’s interested in the idea that the product records the physical effort of the making. His use of clay appeals intensely to the senses. His objects make specific demands on the viewer because of the manner in which they’re fabricated, yet their basic materiality surpasses any of the maker’s conceptual intentions. In terms of scale, the pieces correspond to the human body; they are torso-like in size and anatomical/biological in reference. They are also awash in glaze—it drips from the numerous orifices and gleams wetly in the interiors, posing a constant contrast between glistening insides and somewhat more matte exteriors. The use of color is similarly over the top. Although many pieces have a predominant color, each glaze bears colors within colors, somewhat like a sheet of marbleized paper. The formal dynamism of Miles’s work, with its holes, appendages, and deliberate scale, is ratcheted up by the theatricality of the color: runny and vitreous fleshy pinks, botanical greens, and mustard yellows peppered and streaked with unnamable hues. Long after leaving the work behind, the color remains in your memory.