We were thrilled when master figurative painter, Joseph A. Miller reached out to us to be featured for our March Artist Interview Blog! As a fellow Upstate-New Yorker, it was fun discovering that he teaches at S.U.N.Y. Buffalo State and is also from the area. For those who are not familiar with artist Joseph Miller, I’m pleased to share a little background, courtesy of the artist.
Joseph A. Miller is an Associate Professor of Art at S.U.N.Y. Buffalo State, where he has taught drawing and painting since 1997. His work is in numerous public and private collections, and has been shown internationally in Finland, China, Poland and Czech Republic, as well as across the United States, from Berkeley, California to Cambridge, Massachusetts. His work has been exhibited at the Arnot Art Museum, the Castellani Art Museum and the Burchfield-Penney Art Center in New York, the Allentown Art Museum, the Woodmere Art Museum, the Erie Art Museum in Pennsylvania, the Masur Art Museum in Louisiana, and the Springville Museum of Art in Utah. He has earned numerous awards, including a First Place Award in Manifest Creative Research Gallery’s International Drawing Annual V, in Cincinnati Ohio, Best in Show Award in the Academy National Juried Exhibition at the Academy of Fine Arts in Lynchburg, VA, and two Purchase Awards from Wright State University Art Galleries in Dayton, Ohio. Joseph has given lectures about his work at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Daemen College, New York, Southern Utah University, The University of Utah, and Utah State University.
And now, we’re pleased to present our interview with master painter, Joseph A. Miller!
JLS. What is your style of painting referred to? For our art students, would you please describe what this style means or represents?
JAM. Representational/Figurative Art (sometimes referred to as “Figurativism”). By drawing and painting shapes, figures, and objects from both the observable and the imagined world; the images, the context, message, and symbolism are all mixed together in what I hope feels personal, accessible and memorable to the viewer.
JLS. Very nice. Thank you for sharing. Much of your paintings feature figures in water or nature. What is the story or inspiration behind your choice of subject matter? Do you paint in plein air or study from photographs?
JAM. I paint from a combination of photo references, direct observation, and imagination. Images of figures in both natural and un-natural environments appeal to me because of the pictorial possibilities, and associative qualities those image combinations offer. I enjoy story telling through images so I make use of both narrative and symbolism in my work. My favorite art does this and I have a great admiration for other artists who use these methods. I am as much inspired by Art History as I am by the present, and like the artists who I admire, I enjoy exploring different ways to put imagery together to achieve an interesting outcome.
JLS. Very impressive! I remember taking an Art History class in college and enjoying it. I understand you are an Associate Professor of Art at S.U.N.Y. Buffalo State University. Very cool! I’m from Upstate NY myself (Rome, NY). May we ask how you ended up teaching at the university?
JAM. After graduating from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale in 1993 with my MFA in painting and drawing, I worked for 3 years at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in both the security and Art Conservation departments. I considered my time there both an employment and educational opportunity because of the access I had to so much great art and so many interesting professionals in the field. During this time, I was also doing my own art, and applying to many colleges and universities around the country. I knew that I wanted to do what my college art professors did; share what I love with others and continue with what I love; painting and drawing. I was offered the teaching position at SUNY Buffalo State in 1997 which is where I have been ever since.
JLS. Sounds like an inspiring journey. Are you from Upstate NY and how has living there impacted your art?
JAM. My time in Western NY began when I was a young adult. I was actually born in Easton, Pennsylvania in 1968, and I grew up in Mt. Bethel, PA where I lived along the Delaware River. I later went to college at Kutztown University. So my formative years were spent living inside of what might look like an Andrew Wyeth painting; rural and pastoral scenes that are occasionally interrupted by reminders of civilization; water and radio towers, distant lights glowing off in the distance. My art was influenced by this kind of landscape. But it was also influenced by my interest in looking at art by some of my other favorite painters, the Pre-Raphaelites, who painted very detailed, colorful, symbolic, narrative paintings of figures in the English countryside during the 19th century.
JLS. Very cool! Both my boss, Linda Wehrli and I love Andrew Wyeth as well. Are you represented by any art galleries, or do you work solo?
JLS. Nice! For our students, what do you believe are the pros and cons of gallery representation?
JAM. Gallery representation can free an artist up to spend more of their time creating art, while the gallery takes care of most of the business side of things. However, some artists may choose to opt out of the business side of things altogether and just focus on the creative aspects of being an artist. It all depends on one’s temperament and interests.
JLS. Good points. Thanks for sharing. Did anyone try to talk you out of venturing into an art profession? If so, how did you handle it?
JAM. I was aware of how competitive the field was, so I knew it would be a challenge, but I was never discouraged from entering the profession. I am aware that sometimes parents of aspiring young artists want their children to enter a professional field with more employment opportunities since all of the arts are very competitive. I feel very fortunate that my passion for art was always supported by my my parents, and my grandparents (and later my wife) who all encouraged me in my interests. I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t making pictures. As a little kid I didn’t imagine that being an artist could be a profession. It was just something I enjoyed doing. My interest was so strong that even if anyone had concerns about my future employment, they ultimately supported what was clearly my path. As I got older I connected and bonded with my art teachers, but I was not a particularly strong student outside of my art classes. It took a while for me to realize that maybe I could try to be an art teacher. Once I realized that I buckled down, worked hard to bring up my grades in my other academic areas, and with the goal of teaching art in sight I flourished!
JLS. That’s so amazing you had such a supportive family. Our students are interested in the latest tools of the trade. May I please inquire, what is your preference for paints and brushes? Do you use oils or acrylics? Do you paint on canvas board, panels, or…? Do you finish with a varnish or leave as is?
JAM. I have no allegiance to brand names. I generally pick up from the art store whatever brushes, oils and acrylics I need for the project I am working on at the time. I paint on hot pressed watercolor paper adhered to wood panels. I like drawing on paper, and since my paintings begin as drawings, and I like the feel of paper I just transition from drawing to painting on the paper/wood panel. I finish my work with a final coat of re-touch, or Dammar varnish.
JLS. Thanks for the intel. I have to try painting on paper one day. 🙂 At what age did you realize you wanted to be a professional artist?
JAM. In my early 20s when I was in college it looked to me like my art professors really enjoyed their jobs. They were animated, nurturing, and inspirational and that made me want to do the same; share what I love (painting and drawing) with others. Whereas my goal had once been to teach art at the Kindergarten through Grade12 level, now I wanted to teach at the college level and also pursue the goal of being a professional artist.
JLS. Love what you do and you never work a day in your life. 🙂 Did you study art in college or are you self-taught? What do you find are the pros and cons of studying at a university vs. self-taught?
JAM. Yes. I went to both undergraduate, and graduate school for painting and drawing. I thoroughly enjoyed my academic experience. So much so that I decided to stay in college for the rest of my life! As a person who was educated at a Kutztown, and SIUC, and now teaches at SUNY Buffalo State University, I can highly recommend the path of higher education. One of the benefits is that as a student you are doing your creative work and research among other art students. There is something very rewarding about discovering what your peers and professors do, the art they create, the questions they ask, the comments they make about their own, and your artwork. Art is about communication, ideas and expression. So witnessing and sharing other people’s art teaches us about others and ourselves. And sometimes students push harder because of both admiration of, and a healthy competition with, others. It helps to develop one’s artistic voice and build artistic stamina. I think studying at a university, if you can afford to do so, opens up your eyes to the large art world that exists. You learn about many other artists’ work, and working methods and that puts art, and your practice of it into a larger context.
JLS. Thank you for sharing. Very insightful. Do you teach any workshops via Zoom or in-person? You are welcome to host a workshop at Pastimes’ zen art studio if you’re ever in Los Angeles. 🙂
JAM. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to be a visiting Artist at a number of other universities (in person and through Zoom) where I have done lectures about my work, and demonstrations. Thank you for the invitation!
JLS. Awesome. Maybe we’ll set up a Zoom class one day. What is some advice you can give the young artists studying at Pastimes?
JAM. Find a way to always make art if that’s what you love to do. Even if all you can do is draw or paint in a small sketchbook; figure out a way to continually develop and grow more aware as an artist. There are lots of expensive art supplies and gadgets available that you can use to create art, but even if you only have a small sketchbook and a pencil you can take them just about anywhere and draw and write down your ideas. After graduate school, when I worked as a security guard at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, I carried a small sketchbook that fit into the pocket of my navy-blue polyester uniform jacket. And whenever I could, I would pull that little sketchbook out with my yellow HB pencil and sketch detailed drawings of paintings and sculpture in the collection. News spread through the museum about my sketchbook and curious staff members would ask to see my work. I ended up selling many of those little drawings!
JLS. That’s so great. Thank you for the advice! Our students and readers appreciate it. Art can touch people’s lives, bringing happiness and hope. For example, my boss Linda Wehrli, partners with CoachArt to provide free art classes for families impacted by childhood chronic illness. Is there a charity you are fond of or support, that you might like our readers to learn more about?
JAM. Yes. Best Friends Animal Society. As a young boy, besides my art I had my beloved dog, Penny who went on many walks with me in the woods. There we shared countless hours of joy, exercise, and creativity. Pets and wildlife have always been dear to my heart.
JLS: For sure! Animals really add to life. That’s very sweet. Do you have a favorite quote or mantra that inspires you?
I like this idea because it means, you are what you do, and you will probably continue to do what you love to do! If you make art, you are an artist!
JLS. Love it! Thank you again for this wonderful interview.
Want to learn more about this brilliant artist? Check out on his website and Flickr!
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Pastimes For a Lifetime Art and Piano School is located in Valley Glen, California. 818-766-0614. School is open Tuesday – Saturday year round, except major holidays.