Portrait of the Artist

Shayna Miller

Meditations in Blue

By Noelani Kirschner | August 12, 2019
<em>Neshama</em>, 2019, oil on panel, 10 x 8 in.
Neshama, 2019, oil on panel, 10 x 8 in.

Shayna Miller took to painting when she realized that she could explore the “ritual as the spiritual” through repetitive brushstrokes on canvas. “Before I studied art, I was studying comparative religion,” she says. “I’ve always been interested in why people practice religion and what compels them to believe.” As her studies progressed, she noticed that all religions center around ritualistic, repetitious actions with the conviction that such practices will result in a desired outcome. “Is there a difference between a painting process and a religious ritual?” she wonders.


  • Ayin, 2019, oil on panel, 10 x 8 in.


Sifting through iconographic paintings from the Italian Renaissance, Miller was inspired to create her own version of devotional imagery. The cobalt pigment found in Raphael’s frescoes signified sanctity and a profound spiritual resonance, so Miller began to incorporate a myriad of teal, cerulean, and indigo within her own work. “Blue represents inner devotion, even in a secular way,” she says. “Maybe it’s devotion to painting or another manual practice. It doesn’t have to be a devotion to religion.”

She begins by liberally applying paint directly onto the canvas, and scrubbing it with a rag in circular motions, letting her subconscious dictate the action. Her paintings usually end up with circular, arched forms, abstracted expressions reminiscent of the backgrounds of Italian Renaissance art. Her only rule: the painting must be completed in one sitting, whether she deems it a success or not. As a result of her single-focused practice, Miller sees the works as the end-product of an artistic transformation—her paintings are the physical manifestation of her devotion to the craft.

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