Nick Miller and the thrill of painting with a gun to your head.....

Patrick: after Olympia and Venus”. Nick Miller 2011. Oil on linen. 182 x 214 cm / 72 x 84
All images are courtesy of the artist and Rubicon Gallery Dublin

Nick Miller's work will be installed in the Heritage Council, Kilkenny for the duration of the Festival. It will be a film about the creation of this painting of his old friend Patrick, shown on an easel from his studio, while the resulting painting will be on view on another easel. It has been set to music by Kevin Volans, a South African, now living and working in Ireland.

Nick kindly participated in this on-line interview which I think is a wonderful insight into his influences and processes. His "gun to the head" honesty and intensity comes through in his own words. I am inspired by the prospect of experiencing art which draws on such long traditions and pre-digital knowledge. Be there!

I was very struck by the image that you chose for the Kilkenny Arts Festival brochure, it's of you at work in the studio rather than a finished work, why was that?

Well the image you refer to is actually a still from a film I made concerning the making of that particular painting. Both the film and painting are shown together for the Kilkenny piece. So the viewer can simultaneously see the actual painting and a film looking at it's creation.

Nearly all my work is made in the presence of a subject, whether that is person or landscape, so in a sense there is always a performative aspect, and it succeeds or fails within time limits. In this case, the subject is a friend, Patrick was available for three days, so the painting and film were made over those three days. The element of time and participation of the subject have always been important to my way of working, they provide the limits and context within which to make a work. I decided to make the film to try to reflect that....

What kind of daily process do you follow?

As I said, my daily process is really determined by what or who I am painting- in a way I made this film piece so that the process you ask about, is open to being seen, so that it becomes clearer how the painting is made, warts and all. I used to be much more of a daily painter, now I tend to work in more intense bursts. The intervening periods when not actually painting are a mixture o family life, periods of reverie and the ever growing burden managing one's survival as an artist in a complex world.

I read that you used to work from a truck, why was that?

Going back to what I just said about being present with the subject, I got the truck in the late 1990's to enable me to be 'in' the landscape I was painting while I worked, converting it to use as a mobile studio. For me its always about “being there” and trying to fix the “is-ness”of things in paint. The truck was a very practical solution to be allow me to be there in nature and work on large canvases with the protection of a studio environment. I have broadened that approach over recent years, with an interest in occupying or building temporary studios, such as the piece currently on show in Massachusetts, a 360˚ view from a tree house platform/studio in a New England forest painted over two months of the leaf fall.

Who and what influences you?

My education in art has been driven by a wandering through museums in cities around the world and seeing what I connect with. So while my influences flux and changes within that vast array of image making in the the world from ancient to contemporary. Personally I connect most deeply with the art from pre-photography and pre-digital eras, when the painted image was still miraculous. It still can be that way- it is just more complicated now. There are many miraculous painters, but to get a flavour of what I mean: Van Eyck, Bellini, Titian, Goya, Velasquez....and many more. Of course now, it has become even more interesting to paint now because there is really no function or apparent need for it.

Then maybe an influence for this project was growing up watching Rolf Harris painting on TV singing 'two little boys”!

Aidan Dunne of the Irish Times said that you steer clear of the picturesque, what did he mean?

I guess that I don't make particularly pretty paintings? Or in the context of landscape I was less interested in the view than energetics of the particular land I was painting. In relation to portraits, I think that the language I use takes a while to get used to. The time constraints often mean there are flaws, a cost of completing work with the person present. But for me it is easily offset by a certain precipitous thrill, like painting with a gun to your head.

What is the Kilkenny show about?

Really it is about all I have just talked about above, but specifically I had decided to look at the reclining nude in my work, something I would have avoided where possible when working with the figure, preferring something more confrontational that forced me and the viewer to address presence of the sitter. However I had been Looking at some old greats: Giorgione and Titian's Venuses, where the female subject is presented as fully available for the viewer....Then Manet's fantastic groundbreaking and confrontational Olympia, a similar pose but completely different vibe.

It was an itch I had to scratch, I got lost in those paintings, and needed to make one myself. Originally I intended a female version, but took refuge in working with Patrick, an old friend who I have known and worked with for a long time. We had attempted to film much earlier work together in the 1990s, without great success but I decided to try again.

Essentially I simply reworked the Olympia pose with Patrick as subject...the meaning, if any, is ambiguous, but I was interested in tackling modesty/exposure and our relationship to the naked body in the aftermath of the camera.....but most of all I was interested in making a painting within the three day time constraints of his presence and recording it's evolution on film to try and introduce a sense of time into the finished installation. The addition of the studio sofa which the audience can sit , and two of my studio easels to hold painting and projection canvases...is really just to add to the sensations of 'being there' The short run at Kilkenny meant I won't miss them too much.

And the Music by Kevin Volans?

Part of me wanted the film to run in real time...but god that would have been dull, so I asked Kevin Volans if he had any ideas for some music to give structure to the film... I had decided not to use the original sound and I wanted the film to have an improvisational, silent film type feeling. In the end Kevin came up with a fantastic piece “Trumpet vibe Cello Piano” which gave a 22 minute time frame for us to edit the film. For me it works really well pacing the making of the painting, reflecting time and gives an off beat almost jazz experimental feel to the film.

I'd love to know if you would have any gems of wisdom to pass on to younger struggling artists?
Develop a very very thick skin, but keep your vulnerable heart.

See www.nickmiller.ie    and    www.rubicongallery.ie


1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed this a lot-- wish I could go to the festival. Remarkable artist, and to see him creating with the model... Would like to see the movie.