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Student Spotlight: Michael Miller

Student Spotlight on Artist Michael Miller

"I’ve come to believe in something producer Brian Eno refers to as “Scenius.” It’s the idea that great artists of the past were hardly ever acting as the stereotypical “ lone genius,” but rather their achievement was the culmination of a whole ecosystem of thought. It’s with this idea that I’m excited to participate in the Scenius created here at the University of Houston." - Michael Miller 

Q : What is the degree you are currently pursuing at The University of Houston’s College of the Arts?

A : I ’m pursuing my MFA in painting, but what’s so great about this school, and a big reason for coming here, is their philosophy to build the program around the artist rather than build the artist around the program.  Because of this, it’s not uncommon to see grads stepping outside of their focus to explore new mediums of making and expression. 

Q : Describe your experience in the arts so far?

A : It’s like floating out in the ocean. You get hypnotized by the soothing rhythm of the waves, until one of them sends you under and you remember you’re somewhere out in the middle of nowhere. It’s very addictive when it’s good, unbelievably agonizing when it’s bad, and a lifetime spent oscillating between the two. It’s all ebb and flow and all completely worth it.

I was about halfway through my undergrad engineering track, when I took my first art class, and that was the first time I felt at home since leaving for college. The next two years I spent feverishly developing myself as an artist immersed in the community there, and in 2017 I graduated from Trinity with a BFA in studio art and soon after was lost again. Over the next year, I worked a string of odd jobs, trying to convince myself their lessons would translate back to my art practice. I really didn’t know what I was doing anymore, but I stuck with it, and slowly, piece by piece, things started coming back together. I found a new community of artists, and exhibitions started coming in. Then that group dissipated, another lost period, then a new scene, and so on. It’s all just ebb and flow. And here I am, once again, surrounded by all these creative and inspiring people, mesmerized.  

Q : Is there one thing that has surprised you about a career in the arts that you didn’t expect?

A : I ’ve been surprised by the amount of hats I have to wear. I was only trained to wear the artist’s hat, but to have a career in the arts, you also have to wear the hat of the salesperson, the financial manager, the publicist, and the educator.  If you’re lucky, other people will put on some of these hats for you, but if you’re pursuing a career in the arts you must be willing to do all the work around your work.

Q : What specific skills have you learned at the McGovern College of the Arts that you find valuable in your current artistic endeavors?

A : While working at the Arts and Technology Center at the School of Art, I was trained by Heather Bisesti to help students with 3D printing, laser cutting, and large format prints; all of which I had no knowledge of prior.  It’s been a great opportunity to work there, and the knowledge is invaluable.

Q : Has there been any press coverage that you would like to share? If so, list links in your answer with any helpful descriptions.

A : I want to use this section to do a shout out for Cinque Projects, and specifically the founder Richard Johnson, and local artist Icebox.  Rich worked with Ice to set up a Community Mural Project for the Black Lives Matters movement in the 3rd Ward.  Rich actually recruited me when I was just stopping by to marvel on the way home from school. He saw the paint on my hands and put me to work with the other artists that had also come to help from the neighborhood.

Go to the corner of Elgin and Ennis to see the whole mural or check it out on Cinque Project’s Facebook page or Icebox’s Instagram @aquicebox. Also don’t hesitate to reach out, they always need more volunteers on these projects. It’s a great way to get involved and make a difference in your community.

Q: What advice would you have for incoming students who are focusing on a career in the arts?

A:  For undergraduates - and especially if you’re just starting - I would say don’t put too much value on those first pieces you’re making. That’s not saying you shouldn’t care, but rather, be ok that the art you’ll be making might not be “IT” for a while. The honest truth is that feeling doesn’t really go away if you continue to grow, and it’s so so important to get comfortable with it. Keep your eyes on the horizon, and enjoy the Journey.   It ’s so human to look back on what we’ve already done, and you’re really shooting yourself in the foot if you spend all your time trying to make those first pieces perfect.   I think what I’m trying to say is, believe in yourself but also don’t take yourself too seriously.

Q: Do you have any recent projects you’d like to talk about?

A:  Yes! This summer, I, along with fellow MFA painter Jack Delaney and our volunteers, completed a mural for The House of Charity over in west Houston. Since 1997, founder and CEO, Hashmat Effendi and her staff have been able to provide both the physical and mental treatments necessary for children who've suffered serious burns. She told us that since the kids and families staying at the facilities are predominately international, and won’t be able to go out and travel, she wanted the mural to give them the sense that they were truly in Texas with all its stereotypical attributes from longhorns and bluebonnets to oil and space exploration. The space for the mural spans across three walls that make up what used to be a six car parking bay, and is now the shaded portion of the courtyard. In order to cover as much of Texas as Hashmat had envisioned, we conceptualized a panorama that would span across both space and time. Starting on the left wall, is a golden West Texas under an early morning sun, you follow a winding road around a corner and across the hill country, and as you get to the pines, another road rounds the second corner and takes you into a sun soaked downtown Houston skyline all the way out to the city limits. Through lush country sides, friendly animals and gentle cowboys, all rendered in warm deeply saturated color, we created a peaceful and inviting world for any child who finds themselves in this spot to get lost in.