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Revealing the honesty in imperfection with artist Miranda Graham

Miranda Graham's artprize entry, A Case of Living, comes with a significant conversation about the misunderstood and overlooked.
A Case of Living

A Case of Living /M. Graham

Underwriting support from:


"A Case of Living" will be on display at GRCC's Collins Art Gallery. 

143 Bostwick Ave NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503


A Case of Living at Collins Art Gallery

A Case of Living at Collins Art Gallery /Sami Birch

Artist Miranda Graham

Artist Miranda Graham /M. Graham

Miranda Graham has “a preoccupation with imperfection.”

As a Master’s Student at Kendall College of Art and Design, Graham works primarily with oil, ink and subject to paint disfigures: physical deformities of human bodies, ranging from crooked teeth to feet with twisted toes to mangled hands with missing digits.

Graham’s work takes viewers to a new level, acknowledging and understanding the misunderstood. She gives viewers the opportunity to realize that behind each person lies a story, specifically focusing on those who have a unique physical characteristic. In our society, when we view something that doesn’t look “normal,” it’s the first thing we avoid talking about. 

Confronting the nature of the unfamiliar is something Graham hopes to do with her Artprize entry, "A Case of Living." The painting focuses up close on disfigured hands - one folded on top of the other. The bright, flesh-colored hands stand out against the painting's midnight blue background  and eyes are drawn first to the mangled index and middle finger of the left- each only existing to slightly past the knuckle. Our eyes finally land on an unsightly scar on what was once the right hand's index finger, which, at first glance, may be uncomfortable for some viewers to look at.

“I think to most, these paintings are initially scary, but they shouldn’t be," says Graham. "We avoid what we fear. And it’s kind of programmed in us that when parts go missing, we’re somehow less-whole people. And that’s not true. Allowing people to see your imperfections is a really disarming experience. I mean for me, these are really intimate portraits even though they are painted on a heroic scale. It’s a conversation about the things that we purposely disguise- kind of ‘undressing,’ if you will.”

Graham comes from “a family of storytellers,” and art is in her blood. Her mother is a photographer and her father is a designer and engineer. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago in 2008, the first of her family to complete college.

“My parents graduated high school, but I was the first to ever go to college, complete it, and move on to even higher education, so this was huge,” she says.

After graduating, Graham was working as an education administrator for the Peoria Art Guild in Peoria, Il., when she found herself facing crippling circumstances, abruptly falling ill with meningitis, a bacterial infection of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord.

“I was probably bedridden for the better part of three months, give-or-take. I lost all fine motor skill and it completely affected my drawing and painting. For about a year and a half I was incapable of making anything, and I am a precisionist. It’s ridiculous how meticulous I have a tendency to be," says Graham. "It was really scary to think that something that comes so immediately and naturally to you can just evaporate in the space of a day with no warning. It was even more punishing that I’m this much money in debt for probably the most amazing experience of my life and I can’t use it. And so, this work is a conversation about, past family member struggles but then also my own in the sense that we rely so much on our mind to work synonymously with our bodies. If there isn’t a synchronizing of these two then it just…nothing happens. And psychologically when people go through scary things like this or feats of flesh or... it’s the mind that forces your body to carry on and rebuild. And that’s a miraculous thing. I feel like outside of having some crooked teeth or missing digits, there’s a much bigger conversation to be had.”

Graham's downturn in health caused her to forego her application to the Maryland Institute College of Art

“I couldn’t go anywhere. I was photosensitive! I was locked in a dark room for a very long time. And it was just like, I don’t know… it was really… disheartening in more ways than one," says Graham.

After recovering from meningitis, Graham found herself in a monotonious, artless state. When asked what pulled her out of the affliction, she replies, "I mean, it always sounds cheesy when people say, ‘Ohhh art makes my life wonderful.' There was definitely something missing. When my ability to express myself on a more intimate level escaped me, I was pretty much handicapped. And I think it was the moment when my mom sat me down and said 'you know, you're just wasting it.' And I don't really know how to explain how that affected me, because you know in the back of your brain that things aren't good and this is really...really awful stuff, but to have someone so close to you say 'Hey. Get it together.' That kind of just, well, it rocked me enough that I reapplied for grad schools a year later, still having not painted in the longest time. And I got this letter one day, saying, 'you got a full ride,' and I'm like, 'Oh my god. It's a sign. Get up, pack your stuff, and go to Michigan.'"

Graham was offered a full ride to Kendall College of Art and Design, where she embraced the challenge of learning everything she had once known about art all over again. She also took up oil painting, which is the medium for her piece that's in ArtPrize 2012. 

“My first day at Kendall was the first time I had made art in two years since I had been sick. And it’s definitely been a learning curve. I mean, aside from picking up oil painting, I learned everything all over again," says Graham. "And it’s been a really, sort of amazing process.”

"A Case of Living" is on display at GRCC Collins Art Gallery.

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