GAETA, ITALY – Raphael. Michelangelo. Giovanni Bellini. In its long history, Italy has incited many artists to greatness. But their collective body of work all but fades from memory to witness Boatswain’s Mate Second Class Anthony Miller’s historic achievement, the USS Mount Whitney.
“This is what I’ve been working towards my entire life,” Miller said of the ship’s fresh coat of paint. “For me, the Whitney represents not a single work of art but a culmination. It makes everything else I’ve done irrelevant.”
The 23-year-old artist was tasked with repainting his Naples-based ship last month when the Whitney’s leaders ran out of anything better for the crew to do. Though Miller says painting is a routine duty for sailors in his rate – one he confesses he has commonly blown off – he credits Italy’s “warm and virile” cultural landscape with giving him a fresh perspective on the job.
“I found that I had come to regard that old, metal cage as an empty chapel ceiling and my paint roller as a tool for truth and beauty,” said the young prodigio. “So I asked myself, ‘Anthony, what can be done with haze gray that has never been done before?’”
Haze gray is the color tone the US Navy uses on all of its surface ships – and the medium that Miller reportedly slaved over to make his vision of the perfect paint job a reality.
“We were worried sick about him,” said Hospital Corpsman First Class Larry Perkins, who serves in the Whitney’s infirmary. “Out there at all hours of the night, skipping meals and rack time… there was no reasoning with him. In hindsight, I suppose we were the fools. Who tries to reason with a genius?”
Indeed, Miller estimates he slept only ten hours and lost upwards of twenty pounds in the three-week production period. “The artist’s charge is to serve his work, not himself,” he explained.
These sacrifices unquestionably paid off; Miller’s tour de force catapulted him to the forefront of Italy’s art scene, winning praise from critics and Navy Chiefs the world over along the way.
“It’s fucking magnificent,” said retired Admiral Mike Mullen. The former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who spent 43 years in the naval service, says he fought back tears when he first saw a picture of Miller’s work on an iPad. “The edge work, the consistency of texture… and not a spot of rust! Strategic pivot my ass. China’s got nothing on this.”
The Whitney’s commander, Captain Brent Billows, was so pleased with the results that he stood down his entire crew indefinitely, reportedly for fear that taking the ship out of port might spoil its “breathtaking splendor.”
Good thing, Miller says; he’ll need the time off. Since the Whitney’s unveiling, his life has been a whirlwind of press events and high-profile appearances. This week, Miller will host an exclusive exhibit at Naples’s Museo d’Arte Contemporenea, where he’s expected to show several sheets of plain gray steel. Early reviews have already declared the new collection a “revelation.”
“It’s unprecedented,” said Dr. Aberto Donati, director of the Fine Arts program at the University of Bologna. “In this fickle age of media saturation, I feared the world might never again take pause at a single work, much less a painting. But then God opens the heavens and sends us this angel, this Petty Officer Miller, whose USS Mount Whitney at long last affirms both the transcendence of the form and of humanity itself.”
While the Whitney has Donati and many others heralding the advent of a second Renaissance, some wonder if Miller set the bar too high.
“Realistically, this is only the kid’s first major work” said Florence-based art critic Marco Agostini. “The Whitney’s preeminence is irrefutable, but plenty of once-promising artists have gone mad trying to meet the hype the second time around.”
Miller, for his part, admits the pressure is on but waves off would-be detractors. “The people of Italy sing to me in a way that I don’t expect critics to understand,” he said. “With their music in my ears, the magic will paint itself.”
At press time, Miller had been reassigned to Norfolk, Virginia, and the Whitney was covered in bird shit. Miller was last seen furiously pacing the wings of the USS Kearsarge, drunk and unshaven, screaming, “No, no, no, it’s wrong! It’s all wrong!”
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