The life and times of painter Greg Miller, Austin's very own Warhol
Greg Miller is comfortably labeled as a "neo-pop" and a "post-pop" artist. I say comfortably because it may be the first time I've heard an artist — musical or otherwise — willingly embrace a classification. Artists notoriously hate them, finding them oppressive. Not the case with Miller: “I think it's a delightful to be seen as a pop artist. For years no one wanted anything to do with it!”
The artist, branded as “Angeleno” by art critics after his stylistic homage to the city of Los Angeles, now hangs his hat in the Austin Hill Country two-thirds of the year. “My work requires me to meet with gallery owners in Los Angeles and New York on such a regular basis that it made sense to relocate to Austin.”
Miller holds residences on both coasts of the U.S., turning him into a ping-pong ball certain months of the year. He goes further to say, “There is a peacefulness here that really drives my work. I love Austin. It’s an exciting time to be here.”
Miller's mixed media paintings explore the imagery born during the commercial boom of the late-1950s to mid-1970s. His world is a savage yet sensual one, where heroines and super villains are trapped behind beautiful layers of typeface and fragments of poetry. Much of Miller’s work features women. More specifically, it celebrates them.
His heroines, like those of Quentin Tarantino, are a band of femme fatales gifted with powers of persuasion and destruction. His scenes rekindle the violent eroticism of the Bates Motel, the sound of surf rock and the haunting loneliness of casino culture. His brand of Americana has made him a household name in the art world, a fact that Miller sometimes finds hard to swallow, stating, “I’m not fond of the politics that rule art culture, but I am very grateful to have met some fascinating people.”
Miller has undoubtedly had a great year. He held his second critically acclaimed solo exhibition, Four Corners, at SCREAM in London, and his first solo exhibition, Over Time, is currently showing at PEVETO in Houston. His work has been featured in international traveling exhibitions in New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Italy and China. He's created corporate collections for Playboy, Interscope Records and Pixar studios, and recently collaborated on a line of mens swimwear based on graphic renderings of his paintings which are nothing short of fabulous. This November, an A-list film will feature several of his paintings. And last but not least, Miller painted two cows, “Thriller” and “Lifesavers,” for the Austin Cow Parade, a local charity for Dell Children’s hospital.
"I’m still very moved by the images I’m working with. I haven't gotten through [the 1960s] yet.” - Greg Miller
The demand for his work has also increased. His paintings now retail for up to $50-60,000, a price point that at one time was “unfathomable” to Miller. He tells me his secret to finding success in a stereotypically unprofitable industry: "My saving grace as an artist has always been that I always remained true to my art form. It's so easy in the art world to get seduced by all these other mediums and approaches. I could've dropped painting to become a sculptor or to go take photographs, but I didn't. I'm still I love with painting and dedicated to my approach."
After sifting through page after page of his work, I wonder if he’ll ever depart from his obsession with the '60s. I ask him if he’s interested in exploring the mass consumerism of the '80s, an era dominated by the emergence of corporate culture, big hair, neon and the dark musings of Bret Easton Ellis. The question sparks a thoughtful look to which he replies, "You know…it's not that I’m against that or that it doesn’t interest me, it's just that I’m still very moved by the images I’m working with. I haven't gotten through that era yet.”
Although Miller is labeled the proverbial love child of Los Angeles, he was actually born in Sacramento. His love of deconstruction and collage came from long road trips taken with his grandfather during his childhood. “He used to take me to see the ghost towns around Lake Tahoe. We would explore these abandoned homes where people had been so poor they would hammer a tin can to the wall to patch a hole. Their wallpaper was a collage of old magazines and newspaper clippings. As a child it captivated me. It looked more imaginative than any house I'd ever been in".
His love affair with art began when he moved to Venice beach in the '60s to become a surfer. I can see this laid back attitude resurface as he tells me a story about the time he lost a whole collection of his work to a thief. "This art dealer ripped off one of my shows once when I was 40. They stole every piece from a gallery in New York. I only discovered later, through a friend in the art business living in Dubai that they were selling 10 of my paintings out of a hotel room to a bunch of rich collectors." I tell him that the story should stand as a compliment to his work more than anything, but he just shrugs and says with a laugh, "What can you do?”
Most artists I’ve had the chance to meet are rather pretentious, but Greg Miller is not the case. He is genuine, warm and more rarely open. You don’t get the sense, no matter how beautiful his home or grand his stories, that he is a self-absorbed person. He’s not an artist who has reached the zenith of his career and is simply coasting off his reputation. The wheels are still turning, and his passion runneth over.
As he shows me around his studio, he is alive with excitement. Random images are pinned to the wall with words scrawled above them, illustrating a series mind-maps for upcoming works. Miller could simply rely on the digital world instead of taking the time to physically curate images from old magazines and books but he says little has changed in his process.
“I need to work with my hands, I need to be involved” he says. “I could hire assistants to do all of my sketches and concepts for me. I’d produce at ton of stuff every year but I just can’t let myself do that. I have to be apart of my work from start to finish or my name doesn’t go on it. Call it old fashioned but its who I am.”