Why Painting Is Worth the Risks for Richard Miller, Art Isn't Formula or Fashion - It Requires `Going beyond What You Know'. ART: INTERVIEW

Article excerpt

`FOR me, there is no formula for making art. I can't repeat myself. Every painting, every drawing is a risk. If I can predict the outcome, I have to change. I have to go beyond what I know."

Richard Miller, a painter just now coming into his own, is moving paintings around his small Upper West Side Manhattan studio. All the canvases are large, a few huge. Two or three are multi-panel works so immense that he has to move them into the next room to show them.

"Yes, risk is important," he continues, "and so is trusting one's feelings. Making art is not an easy business. Some days nothing goes right, and I'm convinced I'm the worst painter on Earth. But then something clicks, and it all starts falling into place - and I end up feeling I may not be such a bad painter after all."

Indeed he isn't, as the numerous abstractions and still-lifes leaning against walls and propped against older canvases testify. In fact, studying these somewhat somber, remarkably effective paintings while listening to him talk about his work and career, one realizes Miller is unusual for two reasons: First, in this day of sensational and gimmicky painterly effects, he produces excellent work "the hard way" - by studiously applying and precisely positioning areas of thick, richly textured paint. Second, at a time when success can come and go instantly, he has maintained a modest but solid reputation for roughly 35 years.

"I started to exhibit when I was very young," he explains. "My first gallery show was in 1950, in Washington, D.C., and my first one-man museum exhibition was at the Baltimore Museum five years later, when I was 25. By that time I had won awards at the Corcoran and the Smithsonian Institution and had also shown in Paris."

Miller's career advanced steadily. He exhibited at such prestigious institutions as Washington's Phillips Collection, New York's Whitney Museum, and Chicago's Art Institute. He joined New York's Graham Gallery in 1959, participated in numerous painting, drawing, and print exhibitions throughout the United States, and began selling to museums and private collectors.

Art didn't pay all the bills, however, a fact he countered with a piece of extraordinary good fortune. While waiting for a friend who was auditioning for a part in a play, Miller - as a joke - decided to try his luck. He got the part, did well in it, and earned a decent income for the next dozen or so years as a featured actor both on and off Broadway.

The 1960s were very good years. He made significant advances in his work, and professional recognition continued to come his way. When acting lost its appeal around 1970, he switched to teaching art.

He still teaches, and finds it both challenging and frustrating. Although he'd rather spend his entire day painting, he accomplishes a great deal in the relatively little time he has for himself.

For proof, one need only look at his work. Unlike contemporaries who make desperate attempts to "update" the work that won them some measure of fame 10, 20, possibly even 40 years ago, Miller sticks by his guns and improves steadily. …