We talk a lot on this site about inspiration, and with most of our subjects that conversation assumes a certain measure of materiality — that we’ll be discussing the things they’ve amassed over the years or the places they return to over and over again on their travels. But for the British artist Sam Orlando Miller, it’s the lack of these things that gives him the energy and space to create. In 2000, after spending more than a decade in London building up his interiors firm, Miller and his wife, Helen, left it all behind for a quiet life in the Le Marche region of Italy, a mile from the nearest village, close to the coastline of the Adriatic Sea. But though they live in an admittedly enviable location, Miller says, “it didn’t need to be Italy. It just needed to be somewhere that was wilder than London, away from the culture I’d been immersed in. I found it difficult to think when surrounded by all that stuff. Here, you have to think about your own creativity and what your voice is. When you’re surrounded by nature, all of a sudden you’re on your own, psychologically.”
And so rather than things, Miller collects thoughts and sketches and conversations, running over them again and again in his head until one bumps into the other and becomes a full-fledged idea. That’s what happened with his most recent body of work The Sky Blue Series, a collection of mirrors and objects commissioned by the San Francisco gallery Hedge for a solo show — on view until this coming Monday — that marks Miller’s American debut. (That’s his Untitled Mirror 4 above.) He’d been thinking about a pair of turquoise earrings he’d made for his wife years earlier, as well as a blue glass commission that never came to fruition. When a California gallery came calling, Miller immediately jumped to the idea of the blue skies of California, though he admits it’s a cliché. “When you’ve never been to a place, your idea of it comes from film,” he laughs.
The view from the Miller’s home
Untitled Mirror 1, Midnight Blue
The resulting series crystallizes ideas and forms that Miller has been playing with for years — namely the faceting, coloration, and patination of mirrored surfaces that fragment the reflection and in doing so, augment the objectness of each piece. “A lot of the mirrors I was doing at the beginning actually were old, things I’d found in dumps,” Miller says. “When I ran out of that stuff, I had to start doing the patina myself. The reason for the patination is more to do with when you’re looking in the mirror, if there is no patination, you’re looking at yourself. If there is patination, your eye jumps to the surface of the object. The complexity makes the pieces a bit more interesting.”
Untitled Mirror 1, Sky Blue
Untitled Mirror 5
To make each piece, Miller has the glass hand-blown in Poland, silvered, then shipped to his Italian workshop, where he experiments, using low-acid chemicals or just leaving them out in the elements. He also creates the steel frames on which the glass sits. For this series, Miller silver-plated the frames, to call even more attention to the mirrors as autonomous objects but also to hark back to his childhood as the son of a silversmith. “Part of growing up with silver made me realize it was just a substance that happens to be wonderful to work with because of its physical qualities, not its status or worth,” Miller has said. “The skill of working with silver is the understanding of reflection. When you make an object in silver you need to know how it captures the world around it.”
That’s in part what fascinates Miller about mirrors. When his wife photographed the Sky Blue Series at home, they reflected the pastoral surroundings. At the gallery, they absorb something entirely different. “They really are things to see in person,” says Miller.
Installation view, The Sky Blue Series, Hedge Gallery, San Francisco. The exhibition is on view through Monday, October 22.