Many paintings by Miller Lopez might put you in mind of the work of William Blake, though Lopez’s subjects are generally drawn from contemporary life. His range encompasses landscapes, cityscapes, portraits, and figure studies. The rich colors and swirling brushwork add a hallucinatory aspect to his paintings. Fauns, owls, serpents, and other creatures, real and imaginary, are often his subjects. “I try to bring in a lot of mythological figures and tap into the collective subconscious and bring a lot of myself into the paintings,” Lopez told Pasatiempo. “I try to hit on a deeper level than just the superficial imagery.”
Lopez, who participates in Contemporary Hispanic Market for the fourth year, takes a traditional approach to working with materials, grinding his own pigments and, in the case of more earthy colors, gathering the pigments himself. “I prepare my art materials by hand. I stretch and prime my canvases using Baroque and Renaissance mediums to bring back a renaissance of artist materials and quality. It gives me a wider voice in my art. My palette is coming from growing up here in Santa Fe, the vivid, lucid colors that happen in the sky and environment. I try to bring that into the darker paintings to have a contrast and a more dreamlike palette. One of the reasons they’re so bright and vivid is that I do grind my own pigments. Store-bought paint is diluted down for shelf life. It’s mass produced, so it’s not as intense or concentrated.”
Color dichotomies are strong in his cityscapes and in his Apocalypse series, where pastel hues seem at odds with the subject matter. In his Manhattan Project, for instance, a crashed airliner rests in the foreground of a scene of destruction, and a flying saucer floats above in a fiery orange sky. Other colors include creamy yellows and soft purples and blues. It’s one of several paintings Lopez made in response to the possibility of human-made, worldwide environmental disaster. “It’s a message that we do have a beautiful world and it’s our responsibility to take care of it and respect its power of creation and destruction.”
Lopez’s landscapes are also beguiling. Every element seems alive. These are not quiet scenes of idyllic stillness but atmospheric, romantic landscapes like something J.M.W. Turner might have envisioned, filled with abstraction, color, and light. “I studied with Frank Mason at the Art Students League in New York, and I also studied with Gregory Crane at the School of Visual Arts in New York. Frank Mason was Gregory Crane’s teacher, so it was sort of a line of knowledge passed down. That’s where I get a lot of technique and the way I approach oil paint.”
Perhaps it is the particular combination of darkness and light and the subject matter — nature threatening to overtake the peaceful tranquility of rural America — that inspires comparisons to visionary artists such as Blake. “I try to combine a contemporary sense of design with classical storytelling and subconscious imagery. I’m inspired a lot by Samuel Palmer and Charles Burchfield,” Lopez said. Burchfield, an American modernist, and Palmer, a 19th-century British landscape painter, were considered visionaries. That Lopez would cite both as influences is not surprising. His own work bears elements of the Romantic period’s emphasis on awe before the untamed beauty and power of nature, and of modernist aesthetics including expressionism. “All my landscapes start off with alla prima studies outside. I try to take it as far as I can. Sometimes it’s finished, and other times it just becomes a study for a larger painting that I develop in my studio. Sometimes I combine a few elements from different landscapes.”
Lopez grew up in Santa Fe and participated in Traditional Spanish Market, doing woodcarvings and retablos. “I try to incorporate my heritage into my current paintings. I like the freedom and range of colors I can achieve with oil painting. In the design elements, I draw a lot from my past, painting retablos.”
Despite a range of influences and subjects, there is consistency to Lopez’s painting style. The amorphous backgrounds, as in his portrait Rebeca, are charged with energy in their loose, gestural brushwork. The space surrounding his figures is halo-like if otherwise not clearly defined. “I try to be bold and have a lot of bravado and try to handle the paint with expressive brushwork.” It is odd to see, so readily, the influence of so many movements and styles in the work of a single artist, who also remains true to his own vision. Work by Flemish Baroque painters and artists from the golden age of Dutch painting (in the 17th century) is similarly steeped in allegory and myth as well as portraiture. To see such work referenced by an artist with a background studying fine art is not surprising, but Lopez seems to have found his own aesthetic compass, avoiding work that’s overtly derivative. His work may put one in mind of more contemporary artists, such as Luis Jiménez, as readily as it reminds us of old masters such as Rubens. The broad range is more a synthesis of styles than imitation. Lopez’s portraits share the swift, expressive rendering seen in his dramatic landscapes and cityscapes, though the portraits are often painted with a more somber palette. “There’s a lot of inspiration from Rembrandt, Velazquez, and Rubens. It’s a collaboration of influences, finding my voice and bringing what I have to say into the paintings, just being aware of different artists and art forms throughout history.” ◀
Miller Lopez shows his work in booth 18 at the 27th Annual Contemporary Hispanic Market on Lincoln Avenue from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, July 27 and 28.