Justin Miller’s time at EIU left an indelible mark on his life as an artist, which is why he was so excited when he was asked to display his painting collection this fall at Tarble Arts Center.
“I was so grateful when I was invited to do this show and ecstatic to be coming back to a place I hold in such high regard,” said Miller, whose exhibit is titled Beyond the Afterglow: Recent Paintings by Justin Henry Miller. “So many outstanding artists have shown at Eastern at the Tarble, so I was very flattered.”
Miller, who completed undergraduate and graduate coursework at Eastern on his way to a current position heading up Southeast Missouri State University’s painting department, will have his works in the Brainard Gallery through Nov. 4. Although it may seem unlikely at first glance, his work is inspired by a youth spent on a horse farm in nearby Arcola.
“That really allowed me to see a lot of things from an interesting scientific standpoint,” said Miller of his rural beginnings. “I’m seeing my father perform innoculations and selective breeding practices … it definitely resonated in my mind.”
In turn, that scientific perspective served as a “breeding ground for content.”
“With a lot of my paintings, I’m almost imagining the experiment that’s gone awry or didn’t quite work out,” explained Miller. “The elements that compose my paintings, I think of them as almost the leftovers or byproducts that are trying to resist expiration.”
Staying with that theme of finding use for leftovers, Miller has also combed antique stores and flea markets for old photographs. His collection includes many paintings using these vintage portraits as a base.
“I like the idea of resurrecting them — painting over the top of them to create a new narrative.”
Many small-town kids passing time with paint sets or sketchbooks may not be able to imagine cultivating their hobbies into a real-life profession, and Miller admits he was probably in that boat. But once he got to EIU, he realized it was more than a pipe dream.
“Coming to a university and working with professors who have such a great broad knowledge base really opened up a lot of windows for me,” said Miller. “It gave me the confidence I needed to take those next steps.
“Some people might question the viability of a career in the art world, but everybody was very supportive, very nurturing and again gave me the confidence I needed to take those steps to get where I am today.”
Justin Miller (left) and Chris Kahler, a professor in the Department of Art, pose in front of Miller's work at the Tarble Arts Center .