James Miller: Making Marks in Realism
“I have been exploring and painting the landscape and seascape of the island of Newfoundland for over 35 years. This series of works, Gardens of Stone, is the continuation of my artistic journey and discovery.”
- James Miller
There’s a breadth – and a breath – to James Miller’s landscape paintings. While he doesn’t compose en plien air, he starts with and in the natural world, crafting numerous studies that will build to the crescendo of a finished work in his studio. So it’s not just the colours and forms that resonate from the canvas, but atmosphere and texture. A scrim of salt water riffling itself to shore. Erratics in granite barren bloom. A blue moon in a blue sky. We are there.
Miller was born in St John’s, but grew up in the States and then Montreal where his father was transferred. He came back to St. John’s to finish high school at PWC, where two pivotal events occurred: he was taught by Reginald Shepherd [1924-2002], and acclaimed painter of poetic realism, and he saw an exhibition of 18th century Dutch realism at what was then the MUN Art Gallery.
He went on to study at the Ontario College of Art as well as in Montreal and Halifax.
Miller describes his work as realism, classic and contemporary, but some of his influences are, unexpectedly, surrealists like Salvador Dali and Max Ernst. “Because what they give you is freedom. Dali said there are no rules, I am making my marks, some of it is real and some of it isn’t.” Miller’s works are embedded with symbolism, juxtaposition, metaphor, and trompe-l’oeil. Every element is important, precisely selected, and part of a story.
His affinity for classical Dutch landscape has not waned. It’s found in his every horizon, allowing for lots of sky and especially clouds, with their drama of contrasting lights. And in his very subject, not a lush Italian countryside (or wherever) but his own lived environment. He knows these cliffs, that sea; he’s walked it, he’s sailed it.
“In the exploration of the landscape and coastline I am always inspired by the simple beauty of a tree, a stone, or a wave,” Miller says. “Individually they are unique living sculptures designed by the wind, the sun, the calm, and the storm.” It’s an artistic trek, and a physical one, too, taking him to “the far places, the places that are difficult to attain, the places that are off the beaten track.” Spaces where hills beckon, and windswept trees and timeless stone stand like sentinels. “Every coastline is a symphony of the sea meeting the land, thunderous in the percussion, and then suddenly muted in a moment of tranquility, while another wave builds strength and explodes into the ragged edges of the land.”
To this Miller brings his technique and attention, his palette and configuration. It’s capital R Romantic but also wild, because this – his – North Atlantic island is wild. Miller hikes it and surveys it. He absorbs it, takes it in. And then he paints it as he sees it.
Gardens of Stone continues at the Christina Parker Gallery until December 28.