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Greg Miller's Happy Ending

After more than thirty years on the scene, the tongue-in-cheek American artist arrives in London for his first UK solo show

On this side of the world, one can only imagine the contradictions alive in a Hollywood town. Venice Beach, California, to be exact, is just the kind of place where you might take an evening drive, only to spot a Nazi Party troop strolling by. For Greg Miller, situations like these inspire questions of the authenticity of history and time, which he explores in his latest, more politically charged series, ‘Happy Ending’, now on display at London's Scream gallery.

While the Venice Beach resident draws from a rich well of local iconography, there are elements a non-American audience can identify with. The universal hope for ‘truth’ for instance, or his version of an adult fairy tale where the hero rides off into the sunset. Beyond that, his signatures - the cheekiness and celebrations of nostalgia - are still there. His dynamic compositions reveal a beauty and relevance in popular culture and more so in street art, where he’s found a way of saving it from whitewash by sealing it with resin – high-gloss surfboard resin, of course. Catching the painter at the opening, we find he’s already inspired by London despite his short two-day stay. At least we know this isn’t the end.

Dazed Digital: Can you explain why you’ve called this series ‘Happy Ending’?
Greg Miller:
A happy ending is the conclusion of the plot in a series of paintings, where everything turns out for the best for protagonists, their sidekicks and everyone except the villains. The hero rides off in the sunset.

DD: Who exactly are the villains?
Greg Miller: Those who do not stand up and speak the truth even though it may be harmful or dangerous.

DD: Tell us more about the inspiration for this series.
Greg Miller: Venice Beach, CA is a young seaside town involved with Hollywood beatnik culture, arts and entertainment. Drawing from this and the diverse makeup of my Californian roots, I wanted to communicate a particular urban experience, exploring the contradiction, ambiguity, and truth between urban streetscape and history. Sex, nature, politics, time, history and language are themes I explore in this series.

DD: You mentioned there are about 20 layers in each painting, is there an on-going narrative between the individual layers?
Greg Miller:
The 7-UP painting for example, has at least 20 layers of materials - paintings on top of paintings, sheets of vintage books, film noir novels, vintage magazines that are coated and then sanded back. Each layer carries its own significance, story and historic value.

DD: You seem at once to associate and distance yourself with street art, why is this?
Greg Miller: I couldn't deface the walls outside because of gang issues. So I started to think about how I can bring elements in from the streets to my paintings through textures, layers and materials. For example, I find a lot of my materials in back lots of Hollywood sets, and in the streets and alleys.

DD: So it’s street art with fine art aspirations; but is it an oxymoron to take street art into a gallery?
Greg Miller:
No, I think it needs to have a documented residue.

DD: What’s your happy ending, Greg?
Greg Miller:
X-rated version or the PG version?

Catch ‘Happy Ending’ at Scream, 34 Bruton Street, W1J 6QX until 1 October, 2011. You can also see his work at this year’s Moniker International Art Fair