We are supported with goods made by over fifty humans. To better understand who these people are, we’re spotlighting one artist monthly. As 98% of our makers are women, we’re shining a light on what’s made her, the maker.
Found’s second Make(Her) Series spotlight lands on Morgan Miller (MM) —Painter & Midwife— to better understand what drives Morgan to paint, what we can expect from her paintbrush strokes to come, why she chooses to paint naked women and nudes in the colors that she does and other insights from this smart, complex, talented human.
Interviewed by Found Natural Goods Founder, Jacqueline Smith (JS) —who funny enough, looks like Morgan’s long lost sister— these two arrive on time for their third attempt at this interview, to sip on a decaf cappuccino and loose leaf herbal tea inside the cozy, snow-covered coffeehouse, Crow’s Feet Commons, discussing the wonderful world of Morgan Miller's electric women.
If you haven’t had a chance to see Ladies of the Night hanging at Found, come down anytime or watch Morgan Miller’s Artist Profile, it’s a solid insight coming in at under three minutes. Or, get a small token of hers — we’re offering Morgan Miller postcards at $4 each, and the last two original Ladies of the Night paintings on wood that have graced our space since we opened under a year ago; see them here.
JS: Hello! You look like me.
MM: Do people tell you that too?
JS: Often, yes.
MM: Ok, what are we doing today, remind me.
JS: Well, let’s ask the obvious. Why women?
MM: I’ve always had a fascination with bodies and peoples ownership over their own bodies. And in portraiture, I try to play with that idea of how people in our western world consume bodies.
JS: What do you mean by consuming?
MM: Visually. Or, you know, through media, through advertising in the world how we present each other to each other. What it’s all supposed to mean.
JS: What do your paintings mean to you?
MM: Um, it’s so hard to answer.
JS: Is it because they each mean something different?
MM: No, I think it’s because it’s all so broad to me — it’s hard to pinpoint it all into a one sentence answer. I guess for me there’s not so much of an answer as a question. The paintings to me are a continuation of asking these questions — around what are the boundaries of these definitions we give one another with identity, and sexuality, and how we engage with each other.
JS: In your video profile, I thought it was so interesting how in one show you were able to hang the portraits higher than normal and the response was entirely different from the viewers. Less “funny” and out of reach. It’s as if they were revered…
MM: Differently. They were consumed differently. They can’t do it anymore.
JS: They can’t do what?
MM: People will mock hold an image.
JS: So they can’t interact with them in a humorous way?
MM: Yeah. Which I think is a crutch when people interact that way. Because it’s not actually funny, and they feel uncomfortable. And instead of sitting in whatever reason they feel uncomfortable…
JS: So perhaps there’s a discomfort the paintings evoke?
JS: How are the juggles of your career as a midwife and your painting subject of nude women going?
MM: Better these days. I think when I first started in midwifery, having only painted bodies, I felt I had to keep my personal identity as a painter neutral and away from my clients. I think I had these fears of my clients feeling like they were going to be seen or viewed in a different way because I see and view people in this other perspective. But I think that’s my raw fear that I have with that — which is maybe silly. The more I’ve stood in being a midwife, I feel stronger through that process and I don’t think any of my clients see that. I have a painting in my office and people ask about it. I think if anything they connect with me on a more human level — just knowing that I’m an interested person that does other things than just work. I’ve decided to sit in both spaces.
JS: You can be both.
MM: Yes, they’re not divided to me, they’re all kind of the same thing. The bodily autonomy and identity. It’s one of those things where you think you’re making a complete 180 with your career choices. But realistically, midwifery and art have always been the same thing. So, me pursuing the art world in a museum study curatorial realm for eight years before becoming a midwife —it was all the same thing— my interests were always in femininity and feminism and sexuality and reproductive rights. Same thing. Just different ways of using your hands.
JS: How long have you been a midwife now?
MM: Four years. But, it’s been sweet cause I feel like if anything since stepping away from the art world formally, since working in it, I’d been much more creative in painting since working as a midwife.
JS: Are you currently painting? A similar collection?
MM: Yes, but to me, they feel really different! But yes they are still bodies and nudes.
JS: Do you always paint with a model?
MM: A combination. I always paint a subject that’s an amateur model. So a photograph is often very helpful. Especially if it’s nude and people are maybe more self-conscious. I’ve kind of created this fun process with people, I’ve done portraits with people in different states or in New Zealand. I give them a prescribed direction on how to photograph themselves or have someone else photograph them. I’m asking them to do something weird and then they get to do the first filter. They send me what they’re most comfortable with, and I get to do the filter from there.
JS: And those are commissions? Or are they models?
MM: Both. But, it makes it more interesting for me to be restricted. To have parameters and think of what kind of energy that person put into that photo. I think that’s the weird strange thing that I really like about doing the focused in portraits — that you only see a portion of their body, and with that limited amount of information invoke sensations around their own body and/or engage the viewer to question their own feelings for it too. What does it do when we view each other in this really limited way. And I like the model being in control of what image that is too —they’re more involved that way.
JS: Are the Ladies in Shirts similar to this new cropped in a collection?
MM: I guess I’m not doing just nudes anymore. I think it’s just so fun, you know there’s our historical context of the partial nude is almost more nude than the fully naked person because it makes you think of the undressing. Naked instead of nude. If David had a sock on, he’s suddenly naked instead of nude.
JS: How do you choose your color palette?
MM: I would say that’s definitely where I’m much more influenced about what’s around me. Like the series that’s in Found right now, was painted in Bend during the summer and the colors are a lot of those sunsets and what was happening in life at that time. Where the previous series, I was living in the Palm Springs area, and are wildly different — just the sky and the landscape, hot desert, hot colors. So it’s less about the image and what’s happening in it and more about the space that the painting was being made.
JS: And, so now the series you’re working on is during the winter in Central Oregon?
MM: [laughs] Yeah, it’s a little harder for me.
JS: There’s a lot of white going on? [laughs] What about traveling and painting?
MM: For sure I bring the inspiration back. The only time I travel-paint is when I go home to Texas. I come from a family of painters, and they have everything there. So, my aunt is a painter who also does nudes, and portraits and primarily female nudes. So there are some pretty fun summer evenings with wine in which we’re both doing portraits of each other while doing portraits of each other. I’m pretty thankful for my bohemian upbringing where that’s a comfortable space to sit in because that’s really fun.
JS: I don’t know how to word this per say but do you think it’s luck that your subject, colors, and materials are so relevant today?
MM: I totally hear what you’re asking. It’s what I’ve been doing always. It’s on-trend right now, so I guess those things are aligning right now. But, I’m not new. There’s a lot of people painting this stuff. There’s a lot of overt feminist imagery if you want to call it that, that’s on-trend. It happened in the early 2000s, it happened in the 1990s, happened in 1980s, 1970s, and the 1960s — it’s definitely not a new image but it changes its relevance to what’s going on in the world at that time. It’s been interesting to see even eight years ago with the “same imagery” who was and was not comfortable with it in their house. The continued question of, “Where on earth would it be appropriate to hang this?” Where my answer has always been “How about over a couch? It looks great.” Today it does feel different —maybe more reactionary— on how people are consuming them now. People are shifting on why they’re interested in it. I think because of #metoo, etc.
JS: What’s driving you to do what you’re doing now as an artist?
MM: So, I painted in secret for most of my life. And when, say I lived with roommates in college, and a painting was hung up, I would make up that I got it somewhere else or someone else painted it.
JS: Because it was a nude?
MM: Just because I made it. But through adulthood, I made at one point an explicit decision to let go —which was, of course, terrifying— and to show. And I think maybe because I come from a family of artists and because I formerly worked in the art world, I’m capable of a lot of self-critique and having a pretty fair recognition of where one would classify in the greater “Art World.” But there was this point of, “So what?” Nobody really cares and if they do, so what. There was this ah-ha moment, of I’m just going to paint.
JS: You paint to paint.
JS: Why did you start painting?
MM: I don’t know, I always did. It’s about the process for me, rather than the showing or the end product. I love painting on wood, especially oil painting on wood. It takes muscle and grit. It’s not as, you know… the idea of painterly. I often have a rag and putting elbow grease into it. So much is in that for me. And with the size too. I’ve tried to paint small. I know that on a consumer-level people want small paintings, especially if they’re new to buying art.
JS: More approachable.
MM: Yes, but I just don’t like it. I love painting on wood, and three feet by four feet is about as small as I can get. I like it being big and I like them being cropped in images so they’re even bigger than real life. And it just changes perspective. I want to make it big. I want to take up space.
JS: And wood is an intentional choice?
MM: I do paint on canvas too but it’s a totally different process, you can’t put elbow grease into it. It’s a gentle painting. With most of my paintings, I would never say the process is gentle.
JS: Wow, that’s so interesting knowing the end result is soft and feminine. Do you paint daily?
MM: No, I definitely brew. I brew for a really long time.
JS: Do you sketch?
MM: No, I’m a really bad drawer, occasionally I do figure drawing —it’s nice muscle memory— but wouldn’t say that I’m an artist’s artist, one that’s formally trained in that respect. I’ve only studied on museum studies and curatorial end. I think I made up my own rules on how to paint. I paint with oils but I do it wrong. I think because I grew up with so many art materials around me, I was just free to make it up and have fun. So, I did and I do. I’m not a daily sketcher, but I am a daily reader and that’s a huge thing. Most of my series come in bundles of months after brewing and reading XYZ philosopher and then just a couple of months of mad productivity. But, then spells in between of researching. Then I’ll revisit images for a series idea that I had from two and a half years ago that I didn’t do before because it wasn’t the right timing. There’s not a direct program or a daily practice. I think with most things of my life, it’s all integrated. My process is the study side for me of what am I reading, what am I consuming as a viewer, what’s happening in the world. As simple as some may think that the images are, subject matter-wise, there’s not an answer to what a painting means, obviously. But my process includes a lot of ideas that go into it, even though it’s a simple image.
JS: What are you reading these days?
MM: I’m really nerding out on some Jungian writings. There’s this psychotherapist, I think her name is Tanya Wilkinson, where she’s pulling on different mythologies where people are identifying with them as a victim-identity and as a hero-identity.
JS: That’s your natural curiosity?
MM: [laughs] Yeah, and this is the part that maybe feels unrelated but this is what I’m really into right now. And this is what the next series of paintings are about. And, that’s my process. Yes, it’s going to be still portraits but the ideas and feelings behind it are coming from all these things. I also like people having their own feelings for the paintings. It can be totally different than where I went into it with — you know this is all kind of background, what I’m thinking about. And I don’t mandate the viewer to feel that. But, I like portraits as an act of the consumer. For me, it’s fun to watch people view it, and to see what they think of it, and come up with their own ideas and own relationships to it. That’s part of it for me because I go into it painting portraits based on my own questions of how we perceive each other and ourselves and how we engage with each other, and those questions are not overt, but then I put the painting up and watch people talk about it and they’re all consuming the same thing.
JS: Is that why you don’t name them individually or hang them in the traditional orientation? But they’re all of a series instead.
MM: Yeah, which I think is a result of me being the daughter of a librarian. How things are classified are important to me.
JS: Who’s the librarian?
MM: My father. And my mom is an architect and a potter and printmaker. I really do think about how hard it is to disengage from the design element of painting because of my mother. In my mind, people always want small paintings but small paintings don’t look good on a wall in the same way as a big one does. And then people ask, “But, where am I going to put it?!” in regards to it’s “inappropriateness” as though the publicness of its display needs to be careful. And I’m always shocked, because, by design, I think, well gosh they could go anywhere.
JS: Is that an American dialogue?
MM: Maybe. I don’t think my paintings are super avant-garde or cutting edge or out there. I’m not doing anything truly different…
JS: But they are. And that’s why we love having them!