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“Something Was Happening in the Sky,” 11″ x 14″ acrylic on canvas, 2004, (SOLD)

Dreams about momentous events happening in the sky have visited me all my life — a vast net descending upon the entire nation from space — or — many enormous futuristic air tankers falling out of the sky all at once into an urban landscape. In my dreams the people are electrified, thrilled and concerned, as they are in this painting. But the dogs — thank God for the dogs — are filled only with wonder and delight.  Six dogs live with me at Sawmill Run. They and the sky out here in the woods show me new revelations every day. 

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Multiple Personality Self-Portrait, image area 33″ x 42″ acrylic on 9 canvases

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Self-Portrait, 11″ x 14″ acrylic on canvas

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Kevin with his Multiple Personality Self-Portrait. The artist constructed and hand-marbled the frame, approximately 54″ x 66″ without “legs”

Here are a few quick thoughts on each face left to right and top to bottom, as I experience them. 1st row: Little Debbie Kay is a very sweet and feminine, white bearded lion-girl, who will seem young and innocent even when she is 75. She loves to groom herself meticulously and look pretty. I adore her because she makes me feel happy and warm. Noel Coward Lee Lion is one of the most mysterious faces and one of my very favorites. I “found” some of these faces by sea-sponging textured color onto the canvases and then peering intently into the random patterns until faces emerged. That was the case with Noel Coward Lee Lion. He materialized out of the chaos. The more I defined his face, the more compelling he became to me. I think of him as a lion-man who has lived most of his life in ignorance, misbehavior and doubt, albeit striving for understanding, stability and answers. We see him at the moment of Enlightenment, when all his suffering, anguish and hard-living suddenly and finally give way to Total Awareness, and the entire universe opens up before him. The Cowardly Lion becomes Leonardo. I find this portrait very absorbing. Next is Marg (short for Margarine) the unabashed drag queen who thinks of herself as a rich 1940’s Rosie the Riveter with power — all brash fun, irony and out-there self-expression with no apologies. She’s a Type A transvestite with a shitload of attitude and an agenda. Ouch! Watch out! She’ll seduce you, make love to you, eviscerate you and publicly trash you, all at the same time. That’s the top row.

 2nd row: The handsome young Latino man, let’s call him Antonio, is very idealistic and innocent, but intelligent and articulate. He believes in great possibilities for his own future and for humanity. Then there’s 60-year-old Kevin Miller in the mirror. What can I say? My attempt here was NOT to create an idealized self-portrait by any means, but to paint a somewhat abstracted composition that would see inside the mirror and reveal more of the truth than the glass does. I like the results. It is disturbing, colorful, and piercingly focused all at once. This face seems to look deeply into the viewer from inside the painting, and to know what is going on in the observer. That suits me. The Young Entrepreneur is next. He represents the internal attitude I always adopt when working with corporate groups. He’s appealing and likeable, but there is something that is more than a little plastic and insincere about him. I suspect he may be hiding something…
 
3rd row: Maybelline is my beautiful, if somewhat vacant, vulnerable and innocent inner woman. She’s a model. She does not show emotion, although she feels entirely at the mercy of the manipulations and attitudes of those around her. Her only defense is remaining silent and walking away with the aura of her intimidating beauty in tact around her. Next is Ooloo, the alien princess from another galaxy. She literally has a golden headdress and silver stars in her eyes, and, obviously, she can see twice as much as we can, because she has four eyes. Finally, there is Zulu, one of my favorites. He is a strong, virile, African warrior-prince — the next king. He knows Magic. He knows the Truth. He is profoundly powerful. He sucks all the oxygen out of every room he enters and commands total attention. People don’t cross him. I especially like the way all the lines on the top 2/3 of his face converge in one point between his eyes.
 
I tried to arrange these images around my “mirror portrait” in a way that simply provided some balance in color, style and impact for the entire piece. But, having written these descriptions, I realize that there are 3 distinct vertical columns with a completely different themes for each: Column 1 — Little Debbie Kay, Antonio and Maybelline — is about innocence, idealism and vulnerability. Column 2 — Noel Coward Lee Lion, Mirror Portrait of me, and Ooloo — is about deep vision and enlightenment — arriving. Column 3 — Marg, The Young Entrepreneur, and Zulu — is about a powerful public persona and the control that comes from projecting the right attitude. Hmmm… Interesting… Weakness and vulnerability on one side, enlightened vision in the center, and public power on the other side. I’ll have to think about this. Understanding art is like interpreting dreams, especially when it’s my own art, because I’m too close to it.

 

Eve & Adam 1“The Revelations of Eve and Adam,” 20″ x 24″ acrylic on canvas

Sometimes art unfolds in mysterious ways. “The Revelations of Eve and Adam” started as sea sponged colors on canvas. As I peered into the sponged shapes, I could see vague misty outlines of the faces of Eve and Adam, so I drew them out and defined them. One by one the animals came to join the party. Near the very end of the process the purple wildcat appeared on Eve’s head and the eagle on Adam’s brow with the crown of stars above it. I have no idea where they came from, and I am still learning what all the elements of the painting “mean.”

Some people say that artists should only make art about things they know. I disagree. It is much more exciting to start with a question or a mystery or a joke. I’d rather get out of the way and let the art reveal itself on its own terms, according to its secret designs, because then it will have something to teach me. Art will provide answers to questions, surprising messages, and unexpected wit, if we leave it to its own devices, whereas, if we dictate the subject and control the process and all the forms from the beginning, we won’t learn a thing from what emerges. Discipline and mastery of technique are still essential, of course, but when those elements are in hand they become automatic, and the forms can come through effortlessly, like wonderful dreams, during a good sleep on a cool rainy night.

Scroll down to see “Sycamore Farm,” which has received an Honorable Mention in the 47th Annual Open Art Award Exhibition at the Lancaster Museum of Art, juried by Victoria Donohoe, Art Critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer for over 30 years. An opening reception for the show will be held 5-8 pm, Friday, June 5, at the museum — 135 N Lime St, Lancaster, PA 17602. Awards will be announced at 6 pm.

Calla Lilies

May 18, 2009

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“Calla Lilies,” by Kevin Miller, 20″ x 24″ acrylic on canvas, May, 2009

29″ x 32″ framed and ready to hang

Peaceful “Calla Lilies” seemed like the perfect thing to paint while I was down with a springtime cold or allergies for a week. Introspective, lyrical and spiritual, calla lilies have always captivated me, as they did Diego Rivera, who painted them frequently. I return to them for refuge, as I do to prayer or meditation from time to time. Their unfolding spiral design centers me. Calla lilies impart peace.

I finished “Calla Lilies” Saturday evening at 6pm and enjoyed a drink up in the Tree House Deck overlooking the pond, watching the koi leap and thinking about the future. I made chicken and vegetable fajitas with refried beans on corn tortillas for dinner. It was a warm evening. A thunderstorm was approaching, so I opened all the doors and windows in my rickety old temporary house to enjoy it. A car full of young people drove by on my dirt road and shouted “WHITE TRASH!” I felt a surge of pride to know that after a lifetime of hard mental and aesthetic work, worldwide travel and high level work with scores of Fortune 500 companies, and other richly varied experiences, I had finally earned this label.

However, this morning it occurred to me that I probably could have arrived at this same place without devoting so many decades of my life to commercial concerns, just by squatting in a shack in the woods somewhere and painting. But there are no mistakes in life. I had, and continue have so much to learn. The commercial arena has been an excellent school for absorbing needed lessons and balancing my natural hermit tendencies with activities among people in the “real” world.

Still, it feels really wonderful to spend at least some time painting again. As long as I can pay essential bills and feed and shelter myself and my animals, I’d rather paint any day than count a mountain of money.

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“Time and Money Dancing Together,” 20″ x 24″ acrylic with gold and silver paint  on canvas, by Kevin Miller, 2009

29″ x 32″ framed and ready to hang

After 10 days of intense corporate work and the inevitable sick-in-bed crash that follows, I am painting calla lilies and watching our koi leap into the air to restore the soul’s peace. This painting, “Time and Money Dancing Together,” is still something of a mystery to me, but I produced it a few months ago to explore the artist’s age old dilemma: If we have enough money to live, it means we are employed and don’t have any time to create. If we have enough time to create, it means we aren’t employed and don’t have any money to live. For ages we artists have been trying to find the right balance between time and money so that we can both create and live. I’m still searching for the answer. It’s a roller coaster at best.

In this painting the dilemma has been resolved. Time and Money are represented here by Krishna and Rada, dancing together in perfect harmony even though their demons and attendants would appear to be poised to destroy one another. Time is accompanied by his laughing wolf of temporal destiny in the upper left corner, who mocks all human pursuits and cuts them short at his whim, as does the skull woman of death in the lower left corner. The wolf is under attack by the brightly colored, seductive but poisonous snake of materialism at Rada’s upper right. And Krishna’s skull woman of death waits for the old man who attempts to hide and camouflage himself in Rada’s lovely shoulder.

Perhaps this particular balance is not so perfect after all. It may be little  better than a standoff. But it is clear that at least for the Avatar Krishna and His ecstatic lover Rada, Time and Money can exist in dynamic union, and their lower natures are held at bay. As they dance, embrace and kiss, their two profiles become one whole face — the balanced blending of Time and Money every artist craves.

It may be that such a dream can only come true in the rarified atmospheres in which the gods dance and love. However, a painting of this fantasy brings it one step closer to physical manifestation, and helps me to hope it may yet be possible.

 

 

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I live the life of a happy hermit artist these days. Very few people visit. Maybe they’re uncomfortable with the solitude and silence or being out of cell phone range or the wild animals that live in these woods. Maybe they’re afraid of setting foot inside my rickety temporary quarters while I rebuild the cabin next door to live in eventually. But I love it here, more every week, as the years roll by. It is so incredibly peaceful deep in the woods compared with life in the 5-bedroom, 3 bath house in the Philadelphia suburbs where I lived until a little over 3 years ago.

I worked very hard on that place for 9 years with lots of help, building a quarter mile of boardwalks through the woods, gazebos, a Victorian garden house, a big sun room with Plexiglas roof, ponds, fountains, an elaborate pagoda, gardens and so on. Then one day 5 years ago, I suddenly realized that the whole real estate bubble was going to burst, the Peak Oil Scenario would hit hard, the economy would crash, and there was a good chance global climate change might create havoc, too, within my lifetime! I had to get out of there fast and find a place to hunker down and survive!

It felt like sawing off a leg, but I sold that gorgeous house months before the real estate crash and moved into my temporary quarters deep in the woods of  South Central PA Amish farm country, on 10 acres with a half-acre pond and a rushing stream and a 150-year-old barn that was threatening to fall down. It was the pond that sold me on the place. For many years I have kept koi. This pond is fed by fresh water springs, and the koi are very happy. All 60 of them have names, and they would do just fine without me in this balanced ecosystem. In any weather over 45 degrees, and sometimes in the pouring rain, I sit up on my Tree House Deck under the giant pines and watch the koi swim about  in the pond.

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Sawmill Pond is full of 2-foot koi, bass, catfish, and small sunnies, blue and green gills, and tree frogs. It is surrounded by irises and mulberries in spring and freezes solid in winter. It changes and offers a new and different experience every day.

I haul water for dishes, drinking, and cooking, from the same springs that feed the pond, because I think another spring that services the house plumbing may be tainted by the 30-yer-old cess pool that was dug too close to the water source.

I have 6 small to medium-size dogs with indoor kennels and doggy doors leading outside to two dog runs. Out back in the screened porch there are 4 large talking parrots, a love bird, 4 rosellas, and 8 cockateils. Last summer I remodelled a shed and added a screened outdoor space for my 12 chickens. They lay white, brown and aqua-colored eggs — about 9 eggs every day.

The barn is 150 years old. With lots of help I have worked very hard to save it from collapse, replacing the termite eaten floor, and adding an  inside front support wall, and a new roof. After living in cramped temporary quarters with 7-foot ceilings, I often like to just sit in the barn with a drink and talk with friends or enjoy a thunderstorm with all that great vault of space overhead.

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 The 150-year-old barn is my favorite building on the property, and it now serves as my studio and private art gallery where people can come and see a growing body of paintings on canvas and other artwork.

Living like a hermit in the woods is perfect for an artist. A very good old friend from California visited over a year ago with some trepidation, after hearing all the scary descriptions of my new lifestyle. When he poked his head inside the front door, he exclaimed, “Ohhh!… It’s COZY!” And so it is. I paint at the kitchen table most of the time except when creating larger canvases which I paint down in the barn. But in my temporary quarters I have managed to cram in lots of art also.

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The livingroom is only about 13 ft x 15 ft, but it holds a big inlaid hardwood TV cabinet, an oversized chair and couch, a rocker, two more padded chairs and two inside dog kennels with doggy doors to the outside.

Progress marches on. The barn is saved and functioning as a studio and gallery. The cabin which will become my future home is developing nicely and it won’t be long until I can move in there and begin remodelling my temporary house into a nice studio, office and guest space. In the future I see large sculptures and mosaics in gardens along walkways and trails through our woods and by the stream and pond. I envision a humming painting and sculpture studio and frequent visitors coming to see the work. I have been here for more than three years now, and my dreams are coming true, one day at a time. It is hard work, but I love it, and I believe this is the perfect place for survival and making art and living a happy and peaceful life during these uncertain times.

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Sawmill Run as it rushes toward the Susquehanna River. I often enjoy the half-hour hike beside the stream, through 78 acres of incredibly beautiful Pennsylvania State Game Land to the river.

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Sawmill Road becomes so rocky and uneven as you approach the Susquehanna River that it is nearly impossible to make it through in a vehicle without four-wheel drive, but it is a wondrous hike.

 

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“Aix-en-Provence,” by Kevin Miller, 24″ x 24″ oil on board. (SOLD) In 1970 this was Kevin Miller’s first “Provence Style” composition

In 1969 I was a dirt-poor 20-year-old art student in Aix-en-Provence, France, attending classes at the “Ecole des Beaux Arts” and the “Institute des Etudes Francaises pour les Etudiants Etrangers” — the foreign students’ division of the “Universite d”Aix Marseille.” My long hair parted in the middle, wispy goatee, and wire rimmed glasses made me an easy object of ridicule for the sophisticated French students. I trudged through the streets in my long trench coat, enduring their cool sarcasm while reading Jean Paul Sartre in the original French and sketching furiously in a black book I carried. I still have that sketchbook to this day, 40 years later.

My dear old landlady was Madame Marbain, from whom I rented one room overlooking the “Place de l’Opera.” Her artist father had known Matisse, and she recalled sitting in the great master’s lap when she was a little girl. Eventually she married an artist herself. It was my great good fortune to find myself in her home, because she was well connected at the “Ecole des Beaux Arts,” and insisted that they admit me, when she discovered that I could draw.

One day I drew a very earnest self-portrait and showed it to her. She laughed uproariously and finally said, “Is that how you really see yourself? Well… It is the serious young men, like you, who grow up to be FUN old men!” She was uncommonly intelligent and had the infallible eye of a professional art critic. I always showed her my drawings and paintings, because in an instant she could put her finger on the weakness that still needed work, while acknowledging the strong points in the pieces as well.

 Madame Marbain could not pronounce the name “Kevin,” so she approximated the syllables with two French words and called me “Coeur-vin,” which means “Heart-wine.” She was my confidant, my teacher and my landlady, but she treated me like “Coeur-vin,” and I benefited enormously from her guidance, her discipline, and her love, all three in equal measure.

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“Old Tree Town,” by Kevin Miller, 2003, 11″ x 14″ acrylic on canvas. (SOLD)

I was taking a sculpture class from a friend of Madame Marbain’s who was a professor at the “Ecole des Beaux Arts.” Our assignment was to copy a great mask by the French master Poussin. The 4’6″ tall professor seemed pleased with my work on the mask after her 10th tour of the class during which she offered critiques and advice to the students. So I decided that my copy work was done and it was time to alter the mask and make it my own. I deepened the eye sockets, added luxuriant hair and full lips — I romanticized it. The next time Madame Professeur came around, she flew into a screaming rage when she saw my mask. “How dare you presume to improve upon the great master Poussin!” she roared, and ripped off the nose. “Do you think you are better than one of the greatest artists who ever lived?” and she gouged out the eyes. At first I could barely breath for the shock, but then I found that my facility in French suddenly tripled in an instant and I had plenty to say to her. However, I don’t remember a word of it, because her very top student, a stunningly beautiful, tall, cool, young French woman, sauntered over to the scene of violent wreckage and conflict, looked down upon the little professor, and said matter-of-factly, “What are you doing?… His mask was better than Poussin’s.”

Then I made one of the biggest mistakes of my life: I left the class and never went back. I never went back to that sculpture class. I never went back to the figure drawing class where I had shocked the French students with my photo-realistic nudes. I never went back to the “Ecole des Beaux Arts.” I was young and stupid. I did not know what a remarkable opportunity I was privileged to enjoy. I did not understand the value of abusive criticism and I certainly did not yet know how to transform it into thick skin and inner resolve. But Madame Marbain and her friend the short professor and all the classes I took at both institutes, offered me the best and most intensive education of my life. Everything I experienced in Aix-en-Provence and Paris changed and influenced my life forever, and for the better.

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“Victorian House,” by Kevin Miller, 2003, 11″ x 14″ acrylic on canvas. (SOLD)

One beautiful day I hiked out of town and sat down on a hillside to sketch the Provence countryside. When I returned to the United States I painted the oil painting, shown at the top of this posting, from that sketch. It was the first of many paintings in this style, which owes so much to Aix-en-Provence itself, and to Cezanne who lived in that region and became the father of cubism, in my opinion. Everyone likes to insist that Picasso and Braque invented cubism. But the roots of cubism are clearly visible in the landscapes of Cezanne, painted in those same hills that I was privileged to roam.

Decades later, my beloved octogenarian father surveyed the many paintings I had done over the years in this style and proclaimed it to be my “Provence Style.” The label has stuck, and I am happy with it. The painting shown above has hung in my parents’ living room for nearly 40 years and it still does.

 

 

 

“Sycamore Farm”

April 21, 2009

Here is “Sycamore Farm,” finished just an hour ago.

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“Sycamore Farm,” 20″ x 24″ acrylic on canvas by Kevin Miller

29″ x 32″ framed and ready to hang 

Many sprawling sycamore trees grow near the lower Susquehanna River where I live. The Amish and Mennonite farm buildings in this area are often painted white.

Today I will finish my 18″ x 24″ Provence Style painting, “Sycamore Farm,” which owes a lot to Cezanne and Picasso and Southern France, where I studied at L’Institut des Beaux Arts many years ago. Below is an example of another painting in the “Provence Style.”

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 “San Clemente Hills,” 11″ x 14″ acrylic on canvas by Kevin Miller. (SOLD)

Loosely based on my former home in San Clemente, California