Sensory Experience of Perception


Three Strokes

My work, although mostly non-objective, is grounded in the material world, from landscapes to astronomical observations of objects, including those in the invisible range of the spectrum. I sometimes find representational paintings interesting and worthwhile to do. 

The above image grew out of drawings of scrub oaks I made at the foot of Venado Peak, a 14,000-foot mountain north of Taos, New Mexico. Some months later I made several watercolors based on those drawings. The paintings are non-representational and the motif, while elicited by scrub oak sketches, is based on the madrone tree, a broad leafed evergreen found in coastal areas of the Pacific Northwest and California. The paintings, at a considerable remove from the initial drawings, are unmediated by representation or narrative.

Madrone Link                                                                   

Art is Really Important

Gurdon Miller


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Studio & Darkroom

I work in a mixed use building located in the coastal zone, three hours north of San Francisco on the coast near Mendocino. 

The painting studio is a cubical area two stories high, with skylights and white walls, but no windows. The back half of the building has a bathroom, an office where I often sleep, and a workroom where I cut mats and mount prints. I have installed blackout curtains to facilitate platinum printing. The darkroom is in an addition built against the rear of the building. Upstairs there is a small apartment over the office and workroom.  

When I bought the building twenty years ago, the studio and darkroom had open framing and no insulation. They are now finished. The work areas are bright and welcoming. I recently replaced old dim fluorescent  fixtures with modern LED lamps that provide enough light of the right color to enable me  to paint easily at night.

I can see the Pacific from the upstairs landing. The Mendocino Land Trust recently (in 2011) bought Hare Creek Beach, a quarter of a mile to the north. It is a ten-minute walk from the studio. One can get down to the beach on south side of the creek via a narrow, somewhat steep pathway. The official trail is on the north side. You can sometimes cross the creek where it flows over the sand into the ocean without getting your feet wet. You then hike up to Highway 1, walk south across the bridge, and then follow Old Coast Highway back to the studio.

I am conscious of the fact that Edward Weston and Charis Wilson drove along this road while working on Weston’s Guggenheim grant. I often think of them when  looking at my mailbox, which is surrounded by berry bushes. They got married in Elk, a town about 20 miles south of here, in 1939.  [Add link to book page entry for California and the West.]

My studio 

painting: Blue CircleLarge circular form painting

North Coast / Mendocino

I first came to the Mendocino Coast in the spring of 1964, on a forestry class field trip. I have been coming back ever since.  I feel a strong connection to this remarkably beautiful place, and to friends who were part of the counter culture that took hold here in the early 1970’s.  

Shortly after my friend, Kathy Blake, graduated from Berkeley, she moved to Mendocino with her husband, Nat Bingham. Nat was a fisherman. They built a dome and raised a family. Over the years we kept up and visited. When my children were young I brought them up to what I called the reservation to get them acquainted with my friends and to share with my offspring some of my social and ideological roots.

As I do when I travel, I brought cameras – initially 35 mm, and subsequently, the large format cameras I began using over 20 years ago. 

Hare Creek Beach

Cloud paintings

Galapagos clipping  

This eight-foot wide painting is based on a six-inch wide newspaper clipping in an article about the Galapagos Islands. Working on the painting reminded me of the clouds above tropical islands, which I saw from the deck of the Norwegian freighter, MS. Bougainville, on which I worked during a break from university.

Another cloud painting

From the Central Valley series


My paintings are not about whatever subject matter might be discernible in the motif.





This five-foot by four-foot painting is one of several I have come to think of as views from the Ridge Route, looking northward, just before descending on the I-5 into the southern end of California's Central Valley. The designation suggested itself some time after I completed the paintings.










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I’m not sure where my paintings come from. This doesn’t mean that they are not, however obliquely, related to reality.  

This photograph is of a sunset on Flathead Lake, in Montana. I often use this motif for paintings. The view across the lake motif of the painting beneath the sunset photograph incorporates a reference to the Moon on the Water koan.

The photo of the universe, 14 billion light years from earth, shows an array of bright spots of varying colors and shapes — each spot is a galaxy. Some of the spots appear as points of light and look like stars, others are recognizably galaxies.

Much of what my paintings are about is the sensory experience of perceiving them.

How does it make one feel when looking at a painting?

When look at a painting, I experience distinctive, simultaneously occurring physical reactions. One occurs a couple of inches below the center of where my rib cage ends (solar plexus). I feel another at the back of my neck in the muscles above the prominent vertebra where the skull meets the spine. A third takes place in an area that can be covered by placing the tips of the four fingers of my right hand - back to front - near the middle of the top of my head a little to the right of center. This last feeling starts on surface of the skin, and seems  to seep down through the bone and into my brain.

Beyond this immediate reaction, I am at a loss to describe the particular feeling that comes over me when I look at a painting or a photograph. Sometimes, when I am moving through the world, what I see in front of me snaps into sharp relief, and it feels much the same as when I look at a painting. 

When I look at an image on the ground glass of my view camera, I hope to see something that will evoke a reaction similar to what I experience when a painting “feels right,” and offers the possibility that a photographic print might reveal whatever it is that evokes this reaction. Ansel Adams used the expression previsualization. He may have meant what I’m trying to describe.

When all that viewers see is the subject matter, they are missing out on the primary experience of what they are looking at.

 The three images to the right, and the one below, include solar references. They are dissimilar in scale and content. (I like the way the canvas makes the ladder look small.)

Please click on the link below for a discussion of Cézanne's work and it's departure from representation.

  Mont Sainte-Victoire

Crepuscular Rays
Photograph of  crepuscular rays 


Painting containing references, none of which is annoyingly literal


hubble deep
Hubble view of a portion of the universe 14 billion light years from Earth



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updated: 18 May 2018 (m)
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