"you have to represent your own way and present your narrative honestly"
Rod held the key to enter Sugar Sheds as the Absent Voices artists gathered for their inaugural viewing. As a local lad, he had sneaked into the sheds to surf the mountains of sugar and now he had a key to unlock the door and be part of the collective exploration of the creative history of the sugar industry.
LIGHT THROUGH A STAINED GLASS WINDOW
Some time before a fire broke out destroying part of the Sugar Sheds in 2007, Alec Galloway had installed a series of stained glass windows and Rod was asked to photograph these. “Alec asked me to go down and photograph, which I duly did” said Rod, “however I spent much more time photographing the light that passes through these windows into the abandoned sheds.” 'Light through a Stained Glass Window' resulted from this photo session. It is a painting filled with fiery light and multiple subtle nuances; of angular bricks and soft pools of light. The painting was to be a foundation for the premise that people see things differently. Embarking on his journey of exploration, Rod found that the more closely he studied the sugar industry, the more diverse his paintings became.
Rod's creative journey started with extensive research on the sugar industry. Uncovering the horrors of slavery, he knew his blank canvas would eventually give way to a story; not an easy story to be told, but one that needed a voice nonetheless.
CROSSING BOUNDARIES OF LINE AND TRUTH
His first piece for Absent Voice was a triptych of relational visuals. The left aspect of the painting depicts the slaves harvesting the sugar cane, while the right aspect portrays a sweet shop attracting the attention of children who peer longingly through the window. In the foreground there are three children playing together and one of them is a slave child. The centrepiece shows a sugar worker on his knees and bowed with the weight of industry, the tools of his trade within his grasp. In the background is the iconic double doors of the Sugar Sheds. The painting illustrates the tripartite of three phases relating to the sugar industry, creating a narrative journey from source to consumer.
The Sugar Hand painting was taken from a photograph of a slave's hand. It's an almost abstract visual that reveals it's message under scrutiny. Painting 3 of 4 is of the iconic double doors of the Sugar Sheds depicting one door slightly ajar. The doors are a recurring theme in Rod's work; a landmark of consistency in an ever changing landscape.
Rod's final piece was an emotionally charged passage. Two lands are represented by the icons on each side of the central figure. On the left is a replica of the Kildalton Celtic Cross in Islay, Inner Hebrides and on the right is a monumental African Totem Pole. “The painting started off bright and colourful and originally there were two figures instead of the icons but I felt they didn't work.” said Rod. As the painting progressed and the figures transformed into iconic symbolism, the sky became darker as he added the cogs of industry. In the foreground there is a figure crouching in despair on the backs of slaves in a sea of sugar tainted with blood. “The last painting was painful to finish. I couldn't face it and almost ran out of time. It was such a hard story, but emotion creates.”
Each painting is linked with imagery and yet, each can stand alone. Of his work with Absent Voices Rod reflected on the completed paintings. “The benefits must outweigh the suffering but actually it left me with more questions than answers.” he said.
Emotion does influence creativity and Rod Miller immersed himself in the Absent Voices experience to produce powerful images that reflect his perception. “Everyone understands and interprets differently. You have to represent your own way and present the narrative honestly.”