B. Millner paints Richmond street scenes at night, filling the canvas with dark space and the stillness of its familiar atmosphere.
But while he visually describes in sharp focus the structure of urban places the mass of buildings, the direction of roads and alleys, the quality of surfaces his paintings aren't as much about the city as they are about light in the city. His exhibition "Night Light," at Page Bond Gallery, may lovingly invoke places like the Fan, but clearly the townhouses and cobblestones are secondary in his story line.
Rendering light and form almost as convincingly as a camera, and composing with dynamic diagonals and vanishing points, he transforms the most banal of scenes into dramatic spectacles. Millner's rendering of cobbled alleys transforms them into streets paved with gold. "Diner Lights" invokes Edward Hopper, filling lonely Third Street Diner with nighthawks. In "Anderson Landing," his only daytime scene, natural light filters through a window and bounces off bare plaster walls, wooden stairs and railings like fireworks.
More typical of Millner's imagery are views of neighborhoods when they're illuminated by streetlights, headlights, traffic lights or neon signs. These lights hover in the darkness like UFOs, disconnected from the landscape and casting surreal light on surfaces, which in turn cast theatrical reflections and shadows.
When a single light source illuminates a subject in an otherwise dark space, only a baby step exists between visual and metaphorical resonance (as anyone who has looked at paintings by Rembrandt or Caravaggio knows). Millner's focus on replicating literal conditions seems misdirected when he so narrowly misses the opportunity to allow for multiple readings.
Millner's technical ability takes him furthest in a handful of scenes of deep space. In "North on Malvern," a road cuts into the distance while the light from a line of street lamps competes with miles of darkness. By offering the viewer room to mentally and visually travel, "North on Malvern" becomes a starting place for a number of journeys.
Millner's significant technical accomplishments are especially impressive considering that his short career as an artist follows a long career as a businessman. The challenge for him is to produce art that doesn't stand on masterful execution alone. When he can play up the tension between visual and metaphorical polarities, he will have really found the sweet spot.
Also on view at the gallery are prints by well-known contemporary artists such as Ellsworth Kelly and Helen Frankenthaler, who have collaborated with Los Angeles workshop Mixografia. The workshop developed a process that allows for images to be printed in extreme relief and with fine surface detail. Mimmo Paladino beautifully exploits the process to create symbolic images in "California Suite," in which handmade paper is transformed to appear as a high-relief collage. S
"Night Light," paintings by B. Millner, and "Contemporary Prints" Ellsworht Kelly, Helen Frankenthaler and others, runs through July 7 at Page Bond Gallery. 359-3633.