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January 18, 2022

Shantel Miller’s Thoughtful Reckoning

Article by Emie Diamond

3 min. read

Born in Canada to Jamaican ministers and now living in Boston, painter Shantel Miller’s practice is driven by her ambition to paint ‘the Black body in an introspective environment.’ Her oeuvre serves as a reckoning for countless years where Black figures were absent and underrepresented in western art. In turn, her work carries a weight of historical significance that she channels through her deliberate use of colour and confronting compositions. 

According to Miller, she is ‘attracted to making painting [she] hasn’t seen before,’ a sentiment which is apparent by her untraditional subject matter and often close-up imagery. A piece that best exemplifies Miller’s artistic spirit and honed technique is her oil painting Coming Out (2020), depicting the leg of a Black woman emerging from behind a door. She paints abstracted, geometric lines and complementary colours in juxtaposition with a realist representation of her central figure, creating a work that is liberated from convention. Miller’s compilation is a prime example of her aptitude for collage, a process which she finds freeing as it is rich with improvisational creativity. In this work, the figure’s confronting gesture towards the viewer suggests, in the words of Miller, ‘they are powerful.’ Her application of paint is intentional and highly stylised, from her selection of vibrant hues to her use of strong gestural strokes. The utilisation of red, black and green against Black skin also carries significance, for Miller expresses that these colours are indicative of the ‘liberation of Black people.’ Working ‘with colour intuitively’, Miller’s use of specific hues offers ‘a nod’ to the people she is addressing with her work.

Close up of a person's leg as the step from one room into another behind an open door
Shantel Miller, Coming Out, 2020

Echoing a similarly declarative presence, her oil on wood piece I Have Authority (2020) presents a woman with hands placed on her hips. This pose provokes deeper reflection for viewers of Miller’s work, raising questions about authoritative structures and power relations.  Miller enjoys the challenge of extracting extreme detail when presenting a ‘re-representation of the Black body’. Her oil painting Revealing (2020), part of her series ‘What Grounds You Weighs You Down’ illustrates a tightly fitted shirt on a woman’s body. The fiery coloured satin material buckles from the tension, creating soft, vertical waves, referencing the immortal, mythological Phoenix. This work is reminiscent of Miller’s process of self-discovery and the ‘moment of realising [she doesn’t] fit into an idea of [herself.]’ While working with a greater purpose in mind, Miller’s paintings are simultaneously deeply autobiographical, typically using images she takes of her own body or people she knows. 

Shantel Miller's studio. Photo by Katy Maclachlan.

Personal encounters are key to Miller’s body of work, with her painting The Meeting Place (2019), depicting communal fellowship, hinting at an underlying spiritual tone. The artist sees home as a ‘site for healing’ and a sacred place with restorative abilities. This composition’s dense surface pattern contrasts with the restful body language of the figures relaxing in a sitting room. While Miller’s vibrant hues and motifs are immediate and brilliant, she also imbues her body of work with a kindness, patience, and sense of self that is unique to her. 

Close up of an orange toned button up shirt pulling against the buttons because it is too tight
Shantel Miller, Revealing, 2020
artwork with people in living room
Shantel Miller, The Meeting Place, 2019. Private Collection, UAE
Shantel Miller, I Have Authority, 2020
Close up of an orange toned button up shirt pulling against the buttons because it is too tight
Shantel Miller, Revealing, 2020
artwork with people in living room
Shantel Miller, The Meeting Place, 2019. Private Collection, UAE

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Lukewarm
Lukewarm
$7,000
Shantel MillerPainting$7,000
figurativenudeoil

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Shantel Miller

Shantel Miller

Boston, MA

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