`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
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. …