Artist Emily Miller finds joy in the unknown.
The ocean. The darkness. The universe.
These places inspire a sense of wonder in her.
But it was the ocean that first tingled Emily’s artistic senses, and it continues to inspire her work today. As a child she fondly remembers searching for treasures on the beaches of Southern California. While exploring the ocean’s shore, she’d often imagine the world under the sea, life below the surface of the waves.
Emily, who recently earned a degree in studio art from Pacific University, has never been afraid of the unknown. She’s always been intrigued by it. That intrigue is the feeling she brings to much of her art.
“All of my work has really been about exploring the unknown in a joyful way,” Emily said.
Throughout her artistic development, the ocean has flowed through her creations. She’s explored the shapes of sea creatures through urchin bowls and other menagerie. Her “Night Sea” exhibit, which just wrapped up at Georgie’s in Portland, examined the link between geological cycles and rhythms of the ocean.
And for one of her most recent endeavors, Emily is crafting colorful baskets from nautical rope she’s salvaged (and scrubbed) from the tidelines. She is working with rope collected from three coasts: Oregon, Maine, and Kauai.
Emily, who now lives in Forest Grove, often spent childhood summers visiting her grandparents on Deer Isle in Maine. She moved to Kauai at age 16 and never felt more at home.
“You couldn’t get very far from the ocean on Kauai,” she said.
While on Kauai, Emily was active in the local art society and took to plein air painting. She began a series of watercolor paintings of historic churches, temples, and heiau (Hawaiian cultural sites) hidden among the hills and tropical forests of the island. She calls the series “Stories of Faith: Painting at Kauai Sacred Sites.” She’s continued that series since leaving the island, flying back to visit and paint. She currently has 24 paintings in the series completed.
Emily came to Pacific University in 2014 where she helped establish the student art club. She also initiated a public art project on campus, serving as the project manager and contributing to the “Shared Roots” mural which now adorns the entrance to the Cawein Gallery.
Since moving to Oregon and being more than 60 minutes and a mountain range away from the ocean, Emily has started to explore other landscapes and unknowns in her work. She found that same sense of fascination in the forest, the desert, and outer space.
Her 2016 installation “Beams” at the Tillamook Forest Center was a low-impact outdoor sculpture that used colored strings above the trail to catch and play with light. That same year, her “Wanderers” installation explored relationships between darkness, movement, and light.
Emily continues to paint in plein air.
She packs all of her supplies in a boat bag and often explores the Oregon Coast near Tillamook. But she’s also explored local vineyards and fall colors. In Oregon she’s actually been able to experience four distinct seasons whereas seasonal changes are much less conspicuous in Hawaii and Southern California.
In 2017 Emily participated in the Washington County Plein Air event, and Hillsboro Mayor Steve Callaway and his wife Joan Callaway purchased one of the paintings she created.
In addition to her latest project of crafting found-rope baskets, Emily is working on a series of photograms. She’s using a simple darkroom process to capture cross-section images of different fruits and vegetables. Interestingly, many of the images look like they could be creatures exploring the sea.