Light up the dark 

M. Scott Miller paints Missoula's nighttime colors

Thinking of night as a "colorful" time may seem counterintuitive, but that's not the case if you're M. Scott Miller. The Missoula-based artist says, "I just love the nighttime because it really pops the color out so much." And when you see his series of paintings—large nightscapes, awash in yellows, blues and reds—you'll see what he means.

click to enlarge Missoula Independent news
  • “Missoula #1” is part of MAM’s exhibit A Night Out with M. Scott Miller.

Born and raised in Missoula, Miller left after graduating from high school to attend the Pratt Institute of Art in New York on a national scholarship. Once he finished his degree, he stuck around. "I lived in New York for nearly two decades, mostly doing illustration," he says. But the West was calling, and he came back to his old stomping grounds six years ago.

The return was eye-opening. "From the moment I moved back to Missoula I was amazed again at the color and light and how beautiful my hometown really is," he says.

It was around this time that he began paying attention to the city during the hours that artists often tend to avoid. "I think people are scared of doing nightscapes for some reason, and nobody really did any night scenes around town. But that's when I thought the city looked most colorful, at night, with all the lights," he says. "So I just thought of the project, and started working on it, and then it was clear that this was something that I needed to explore. And it turned out so well!"

He's not the only one who thought the project looked promising. He shared his work with the Missoula Art Museum. "I had about five pieces done, and showed them to the museum and luckily they offered me a show," Miller says. And unlike the fast-paced world of illustration, working with the MAM allowed him the leisure of time. "I got a whole year and a half to work on the project, which was kind of a new experience for me. I'd never worked with a museum before, and it was really great, I really appreciated their belief in me."

The results of that year and a half of work are 10 large nightscapes that feature well-known Missoula views, abstracted slightly. "I was inspired by taking walks around town, up the M, or up Waterworks, which is most of where the views are from," he says. While the scenes are familiar, Miller's deft hand makes them feel new. In each, the buildings and streets become a backdrop, a stage on which light and shadow, reflection and glare become the true subject of the painting. The palette is bold oranges and yellows vibrating against blues and purples. The city comes startlingly alive in Miller's work, compelling viewers to re-imagine their everyday surroundings, and consider that the night may, in fact, be the most colorful time of all.

Check out M. Scott Miller's painting at MAM when his exhibit A Night Out opens Fri., Sept. 7, for First Friday. And go to Studio D to see more of his paintings. Free.

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