A profound appreciation for the natural world unfolds through the UAE-based artist's meticulous observation-based art
Words by Laura Cherrie Beaney in The Lifestyle · Feb 22nd, 2023
Multidisciplinary artist, Solimar Miller harnesses her medium to raise collective consciousness of the fragility of the natural world under threat from climate change and deforestation.
It’s art that expresses the artist’s profound devotion to the natural environment. Solimar regularly drives out towards the outskirts of the city where she produces delicate yet highly detailed renderings of local Ghaf trees and botanicals. Her output which spans drawings, paintings, photography, and silkscreen prints can be found across the UAE, on the walls of hotels and private residences and most recently at XVA Gallery where her solo show, Witnessing Us can be found.
By encouraging the audience to consider the perspectives of plant life gazing outwards upon the manmade world this new body of work raises the question, 'who is witnessing whom'? Following the launch of her exhibition, we enter the studio of Solimar Miller to discover why her relationship with nature is a defining feature of her creations.
Solimar: I’ve always been an artist with a creative spirit which stems from my earliest memories. The arts in all their facets were celebrated in our family. My parent’s close friend, Julio Santiago, a painter, and printmaker came to our house every day in Puerto Rico and filled our home with his intaglios and paintings. I realise now that my parent’s adoration for him and the value they held for his art left an indelible impression on me. Our home was filled with his artwork and brimming with native artefacts, archaeological pottery, shells, and fossils my parents gathered from their travels.
I’m a multidisciplinary artist and textile surface designer. My focus on the environment and the preservation of trees and flora has led to artwork influenced by ecological elements that are changing in the current landscape. Documenting the unique qualities of the indigenous flora and the expanse of naturally thriving tree species by photographing, drawing, and painting each one with its own distinctive features has become an integral part of my creative practice. I engage in a variety of aspects in producing hand-silkscreened artworks and paintings based on my observational drawings in the environment of the UAE, where I have been living for twenty-five years.
Solimar: My artwork goes through a series of processes to reach its final outcome. It begins with observing, and feeling, my subjects; trees and flora. It's important to be in front of a tree that I will draw from and photograph multiple times to capture each crevice and fissure in the bark and the way the branches bend. I look around to see what the tree is witnessing - is there a busy road nearby? How close is it to human habitats, and the construction sites impeding the soil near them? I wonder how long they will be left to live unscathed by human interference. Every tree I document is a tree I know.
I edit my drawings and create prints on transparent films. I then set up screens with emulsion, further exposing my drawings onto the screens. I experiment with material surfaces and shades of colour. Timing is critical - it’s not a perfect formula and there are many variables involved.
Solimar: One of the key themes in my artwork is highlighting the lives of trees and flora in their intricacies and their struggle for existence on this earth. The complex communication network through their root systems is where they exchange nutrients and fluids to stay alive. Have you ever seen a tree stump and noticed something green growing out from it? It appears to be a dead stump but all the trees around it never give up keeping it nourished to prevent its demise. Trees also “speak” or “deliver” messages to each other by emitting gases and fragrances from their leaves to warn their comrades of a predator eating their stems and leaves, or of an insect that is not beneficial to them. The leaves will impart fluids of a repulsive taste to strongly discourage an organism from devouring it.
Mother nature is alive and imperative to the survival of all living organisms. One tree can provide enough oxygen for up to four people. With eight million human beings currently living on the planet, we need to ensure that we have thirty-two billion trees on earth just to sustain human life; that does not account for all the rest of the organisms including animals that require oxygen as well to survive.
I have been inspired to document what I see that exists now and I hope will survive into the future. I plant trees in my personal surroundings knowing that doing so contributes oxygen to the environment and all living, breathing organisms. My children inspire me to be a better person, and to want to make this world a better place for them and all the generations that will inherit this global land we call home. I have been composting for many years and know that is something that helps to re-nourish the soil.
Solimar: Two of my favourite artworks are Peace of Mind and The Whispering Trees. Peace of Mind depicts different types of trees from the UAE’s terrain, which I have researched, photographed, painted, and hand-silkscreened on dark green, silk velvet. In this work, there is an ambience of the night desert, where the trees appear mysteriously as a hint of moonlight illuminates different parts of the trees and would cause them to appear glowing in the darkness. It was important to me to paint the roots in the soil, expressing how they depend on each other for life.
The Whispering trees, my large, golden velvet artwork, depicts layers of trees, overlapping and whispering to each other. The centre tree is a fig tree bearing fruit. When viewing velvet artworks the colours appear lighter or darker depending on where you are viewing them from and how the light refracts from the tiny fibres. The pigment also builds up in certain areas of the detailing serendipitously. There is a sense that they are alive and moving!
Solimar: Witnessing Us, my solo exhibition at Dubai’s XVA Gallery raises the question "who is witnessing whom?” We, as the dominant species on earth assume we are the only ones that witness events but on the contrary trees witness us, they witness all that happens in their vicinity.
The audience might find themselves enveloped in an Eden, a sanctuary of peace, and freedom away from the chaos of this world. I create an Eden that I yearn to live in. Life is hard and challenging - we all need an inner sanctum of tranquillity.
I depict the relationship between humans and nature in several of my works. In one a female figure reaches up to pick fruit from a seasonal tree. Human interaction with trees is historic and mutually beneficial. I cannot help but be very concerned about the direction the world has moved in. Humans have come to cause irreversible environmental damage through deforestation and desertification. Witnessing Us emphasises the imperativeness of nature and how fleeting its essential existence will be if not protected during our lifetime.
I would love for the viewer to feel more connected to the intrinsic relationship we have with nature and inspired to make a difference. One thing we can all do is support qualified organisations that make it their mission to plant trees all over the world. We can all make a difference through the small decisions we make on a daily basis.
We can make a choice every day to exemplify the truth, respect, and grace that we wish for this world.
You can visit Witnessing Us, Solimar Miller’s solo exhibition at XVA Gallery, Al Fahidi Street Dubai until 6 March 2023.