VISUAL ARTS ‌ The Italian Job 

A prodigal Redux artist-in-residence returns with an inventive show

Max Miller: Recent Portraits and Other Works
On view through May 25
Redux Contemporary Art Center
136 St. Philip St., 722-0697

Light Writing, Fine Art Photography
On view through May 31
Corrigan Gallery
62 Queen St., 722-9868

Artists can be an unpredictable bunch. Just when Max Miller was starting to make his mark here in 2004 with a major 30-piece exhibition in Columbia's Gallery 2, he left to work in a classic atelier in Florence, Italy. As a former Redux artist-in-residence, he'd earned his own show — so, two years later, he returns with oil paintings that display a greater skill and attention to detail than before his Eurotrip.

Redux's current examples of the oil on linen work Miller's been honing since '04 make for an assured solo show. The artist wears his passion for masters like Francisco Goya and Jusepe Ribera on his sleeve, with models carefully posed as if sitting for 17th-century portraits. The expressions of these stilted-looking sitters range from serious to downright glum, and they often look down on the viewer from an aristocratic angle. But there's a bright light in their eyes and they're instilled with an effective sense of life.

Miller himself also looks down on visitors in his "Circular Self-Portrait (Halo)." By surrounding his image with a tight round frame that's smaller than most on display, he puts himself on the defensive, changing the feel of the painting.

Other pieces also reflect Miller's experimentation with different canvas sizes. "Roberto" is on a taller, thinner canvas; "Nude Woman Turning" doesn't have any great sense of movement, but the canvas itself has been turned to form a diamond shape. That shape, along with the title, suggests an attention-grabbing construction sign that would make a change from those boring old "heavy vehicle turning" messages.

Handsome Max crops up in a few of the paintings, alongside other subjects with movie star looks. The half-naked "Cedric" is caught between one pose and another with fluid brushstrokes; the figure in "La Specola" is a different kind of muscle man, skinless and unmoving, lying on his back looking upwards. It's not a grisly sight though, thanks to a yellow-brown background that suggests a hopeful "light of life."

Miller's new work is actually less slick than his pre-Florence paintings, and in this case that's a good thing. While his earlier oils were sometimes glossy and polished, there's more gritty detail here, with pores and wrinkles showing through. Never afraid to make his paintings inky dark, the artist uses black backgrounds to affect the scale and perception of his subjects. Viewers can compare his charcoal drawing of a "Blind Moses" figurine to the final oil on linen version, the latter shrinking into its dark environs.

The drawings range from the faint ("Untitled (Hooded) Study," graphite on ingres) to the bold ("Nadia," charcoal on roma). In all his work there's the indication of an eye for detail and shadow; his still life painting "From Atlas to Reliance" doesn't stint on particulars, with curled scraps of paper curling out between books with different, pleasingly muted colors.

Miller's triumphant return coincides with his move to Charlotte, and hopefully it won't be too long before he produces more work as he builds a relationship with Ann Long Fine Art.

Other artists are also heading away from Charleston, including College of Charleston graduate Meryl LaBorde who will be moving to New York in August. Her black-and -hite photographs featured in a recent brief show at 53 Cannon Gallery, mostly shots of her friends — a great way to create a built-in audience for her reception. Her candid shots convey tons of humor, liveliness, and imagination. Her photographs are carefully composed, then cluttered a little so they don't look too clinical. Her angles are varied and there's a tendency to narrative that runs through the work. We see an evolving love triangle, or a girl with her chin on her hands and muffins on the table in front of her, and we're left to fill in the gaps in the story ourselves. LaBorde has created an energetic record of student life, and she deserves to do well in NYC.

Lese Corrigan is also championing snappers at the moment with her Light Writing, Fine Art Photography, juxtaposing the work of John Moore, Kevin Parent, and Lolly Koon. Unlike LaBorde's documentary style, these artists use their cameras to create unusual, often ethereal images that vary from the gently abstract to the colorfully frenetic. Parent's playful images, which take a look at the South from different angles using unexpected tints, sum up what the show's all about — encouraging viewers to look at their world in a new light.


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