College of Human Sciences

The quiet of isolation transforms the creative process

As we deal with the uncertainty of living in a Covid-19 world, we can find solace and comfort in art. The news team shares with you the work of artist and Unisa lecturer in the Department of Art and Music, Dr Gwen Miller. This series is entitled Enfolding. The exhibition, featuring drawings, prints and paintings, will be showcased at the Pretoria Art Association.

Mountain Karee for Stefan 2019-2020

For Dr Gwen Miller (Lecturer: Department of Art and Music, College of Human Sciences), the process of observing the quietly growing trees and becoming lost in her chosen art-making medium is constantly transformative. The quiet of isolation during the creative process has offered her a safe space to contemplate the enfolding of life’s complexities and the value of care. The resulting works are specific in their metaphorical but understated imagery, and the artist’s sensitive use of techniques.


From the gallery press release

The artworks reflect Miller’s way of mourning the loss of her husband, Stefan, who died suddenly from an aggressive leukaemia in August last year. Together with her family and friends, she planted trees in memory of him on the birthday he would have had on 12 October. A poignant sense of melancholy and absence is revealed in each image of an uprooted tree, each hole dug in the soil. The artworks embrace ambiguity and, although the presence of stains, shadows and rags may be read as despair following this overwhelming experience of mortality, she conceived of them instead as lasting reminders of wonder.

Together with her family and friends, Gwen Miller planted trees in memory of her husband on the birthday he would have had on 12 October 2019.

For Miller, the process of observing the quietly growing trees and becoming lost in her chosen art-making medium is constantly transformative. The quiet of isolation during the creative process offered her a safe space to contemplate the enfolding of life’s complexities and the value of care. 

At the foot of the bed. 2019

Forest for my love. Thomas’ Tree Wisteria. 2020

"The entire series deals with trauma and loss, but also having hope as trees grow to become a forest. Friends and family came to plant 23 trees in our local park. Gauteng Parks was involved for permission and digging the holes and giving the compost. It was a healing ceremony," affirms Miller.

Gwen Miller with her twin sons, Oliver and Thomas, on the memorial bench in the park, which a friend, PJ Reyneke, made in memory of Stefan.

"Planting the trees and then making art about the event has helped me channel my grief. It honours the love of family life. We were happiest in the forests, removed from all the demands of the world, and that is why I wanted to honour him this way, and, at the same time, give hope to my kids and family, who are devastated by his death."

The family in happier times at Gwen Miller’s PhD graduation

Miller concludes: "The trees will grow and be good for all. It is so lovely seeing so many young families bringing their children to the park in the permitted hours during lockdown."

The final piece: Sorrow. 2020

You can view all the images from the series at the website created by Miller.

* Compiled by Rivonia Naidu-Hoffmeester, Communications and Marketing Specialist, College of Human Sciences & Sharon Farrell, Editor, Department of Institutional Advancement

Publish date: 2020-07-09 00:00:00.0