Art & Design Art & the Artist

Action Painting: The Abstract Expressionist Art of Miles Chumley

The work of this Chicago-based artist is often compared to Jackson Pollock’s, but his dynamic style is very much his own

Before we begin discussing his works of abstract expressionist art, Miles Chumley has a confession to make: “It’s funny, because I grew up believing abstract artwork was uninspired and lazy,” he admits. “That could not be further from the truth.” Chumley’s large, seemingly chaotic pieces are, indeed, anything but indolent, and require meticulous planning and preparation.

“Very rarely will I just walk into my studio and start painting on a blank canvas with no vision of the result,” says the Dallas-born, Chicago-based painter. “I’m constantly drawing in my sketchbook and sifting through ideas. If I need to get very specific with sizes of a design, I’ll use Photoshop to lay out positions and measurements.

Miles Chumley in the process of creating his abstract expressionist art
While his style is most often likened to Pollock, Chumley points to other artistic influences, such as Franz Kline for his distinct mark-making and Mark Rothko for his dramatic use of color. Image: Kevin J. Miyazaki

“From there, it’s just me and the canvas. Once I’m ready to paint, I typically work with the canvas flat on the ground, which lends itself to the variety of action painting techniques I use—strong, dramatic mark-making, dripping and splashing… all with a carefully chosen color palette to convey my message and subject matter.”

My transition to abstract started with deviating from Realism into Surrealism. That progressed into further abstracting forms. Then I fell in love with Abstract Expressionism

With their dense networks of splatters, Chumley’s works have, inevitably, been compared to those of Jackson Pollock. “There’s no secret his work is my strongest influence,” he happily admits, but rather than just imitate the famous Abstract Expressionist, Chumley has “tried to take bits of his technique and transform them into my unique concepts.”

A painting from Chumley's Water series
This painting features in Chumley’s ongoing Water series, which explores environmental themes. “Water is one of the most powerful forces in nature,” he says. “It sustains life, yet it can also quickly take life away.”

Those concepts include recent works inspired by Chumley’s adopted city. His Citywalk—Chicago series, for example, was created during the COVID-19 shutdown, when he and his wife “took long walks around the empty city to keep sane and get out of our apartment.” First Impressions, meanwhile, redraws the city’s skyline Chumley-style.

I use a variety of action painting techniques: strong, dramatic mark-making, dripping and splashing… all with a carefully chosen color palette

Chumley’s talent was spotted early on, in first grade. “I completed a drawing of a fish,” he remembers. “That day, the art teacher called my mom and suggested my parents encourage me to pursue art. Since then, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t producing artwork.”

A skyline painting
“The colors of this particular piece, First Impressions, are inspired by my first few weeks living in Chicago when I noticed most of the buildings brilliantly reflected the colors of the sunset,” says Chumley.

The human figure soon became his favorite subject, along with comic-book art. “Inside the classroom, I’d draw and paint portraits. Outside the classroom, I was obsessed with comic-book art. I would study the way superheroes were drawn and colored. The perspective portrayed, like when a hand would be reaching out to the reader or throwing a punch in an action-packed pose, was fascinating to me. Comic books gave me a fun, creative introduction to an education of realistic figure and landscape perspective.”

He stuck to figurative work through high school and most of college, in Michigan, but then found himself tiring of the genre. “I still love to see realistic figurative works, but I wanted something more expressive. My transition to abstract started with deviating from Realism into Surrealism. That progressed into further abstracting forms. Then I fell in love with Abstract Expressionism.”

mileschumley.com

Banner image: Chumley’s A Walk Around the City, created after roaming Chicago’s deserted streets during the recent lockdown.