William Miller bio

During the last century, there has been considerable debate about whether it is nature or nurture that inspires art. Arguments can be made on both sides. But I feel that my artistic journey is an example of why it is so difficult to come to a firm and unyielding conclusion. I was certainly exposed to art at home, watching my parents draw and paint for leisure. But my expressions of interest in doing the same were met with indifference and then active discouragement. It was simply “out of the question” and “no way to make a living.” But every now and again I could get my hands on a paintbrush and I knew that I would someday be a painter.


At Northwestern University, I went as a science major but took a number of fine arts courses including Advanced Painting courses with the well known Chicago artists Wilfred Seidel and Burton Cohen. This course work allowed me to put a greater academic structure on my interests and challenged me to look beyond my initial work in landscape to figurative work with life classes at Northwestern. I completed my course work and went on to a medical career. One of my first classes in medical school was anatomy and I approached it not merely as practical knowledge for the medical field, but also as an artistic endeavor. “This was an absolutely essential stage for me to be able to do what I am doing today. I loved anatomy and excelled at it in part because I recognized that great artists of the past has been rigorously grounded in it and that these fundamentals were essential to their figurative work. Luckily, I was in Chicago for my medical studies. I would race down to the Chicago Art Institute on an almost weekly basis. This formed a very important period of change for me. I did relatively little painting but studied the great art on those walls. Those observations guide me today.”


During summers in school and after training, I continued to work in oils doing both landscapes and figurative works, taking additional classes in St.Louis and Pennsylvania. During that period, I produced many prize winning pictures including multiple first place in oils in regional competitions and was represented in numerous state wide juried art shows. “My work was gaining some recognition, but I was unhappy with it. I knew that I was not creating at my highest level.” I spent a long hiatus without showing my works and patiently studied and worked particularly drawing inspiration from studying the paintings of Valesquez, Hals, Georges de la Tour, and major American artists such as Sargent, Chase, Tarbell and Benson. This was a truly productive working interlude resulting in a fully rounded artistic vision and a painting style which invests classical realism with modern sensibilities.


Most of my figurative work is an active expression of our capacity to enjoy an inherent duality of form, with equal pleasure experienced from viewing both complex and simple objects. Many works juxtapose a simple nude against a detailed and richly ornamented background. “The combination of a beautiful nude form in relief against a complex and energetic backdrop is a personal delight for me. My painting technique is formalized. Each stage is an absolute essential. It begins with a fully formed inner vision of what I want the final canvas to be. This includes a thorough visualization of the multiple stages needed to bring this to life. Balance, color, form, tonal range are all considered fully before the canvas is prepped. Solid draftsmanship is an uncompromising initial step. This is followed by a complete underpainting with the choice of colors directly relating to the middle tones and highlights that will go on top of this. This underpainting is crucial as some or much of the next layers of color may be scraped off to reveal the base color. This stage and a final glazing stage contribute to rich and glowing colors and a luminous effect.” This elaborate preparation yields beautifully rendered and detailed figurative paintings and dramatic landscapes. These works are both reality and fantasy, balanced in composition, color range and tonality but are infused with dynamism from engaging details and opulent textures. Inspired by the old masters, I view the human body as beautiful if not magical emanation. “I want my figurative work to be sensual and provocative which is fully in keeping with the tradition of the great classical painters of the past. The image must be compelling, an enigmatic model and her thoughts, tastefully and classically beautiful but slightly disquieting. The human body is a miraculous collection of blood vessels, bones, and tendons synced together in an imperfect harmony, but overlying these well understood structures is a timeless and ultimate beauty.”