Peter Miller was 46 and a successful businessman, living and working in Tokyo, when he embarked on the precarious artist’s path. His “Ah ha!” moment had come a year earlier, when he saw the original prints of a 19th-century photogravure artist at an exhibition in New York city. He had been fascinated with photography since childhood, but always felt something was missing. The three-dimensionality of the photogravure print grabbed him.
“When I saw Peter Henry Emerson’s work I said to myself, ‘That’s what I want to do!’” says Miller. “So in 1991 I put aside consulting and took up artwork, much to the astonishment of a lot of the people around me.
“I’m now 68, and I’ve never looked back.”
Miller is a rarity; one of a handful of people in the world who regularly create photogravure handmade prints through the entire cycle. And it’s not easy. It requires a major investment in equipment, chemicals and materials. The lengthy printing process demands an enormous amount of time and patience. Miller explains that it takes about one month to print one edition. And, it’s far from a get-rich scheme. He purposely keeps his print prices within reach of those buying fine art prints.
“Yes, I can make a living,” he explains. “But I’m more interested in helping people connect with art that they can enjoy and live with.”
Photogravure etching is part of the 500-year-old intaglio tradition, which includes line etching, mezzotint, aquatint, drypoint, and engraving — even images incised onto a copperplate and pressed into paper or Japanese washi. Certain subjects lend themselves to the black-and-white art form, including particular landscape forms, S-shaped curving rivers, fog and mist. Miller says black (or, occasionally, sepia or orient blue) etching ink on handmade paper or washi creates a depth of tonality and texture that is unique.
Miller also feels there’s a philosophical depth to the prints. “There’s a sort of counterpart of emotion, whether it’s longing or anticipation or memory. I’ve had any number of people at exhibits say to me, ‘You know, I’ve never actually been there but, darn it, I’ve been there’.” He says people seem to project favourable experiences or emotions onto the scene they see. “There are certain compositional forms—wherever they’re made — that evoke that sensibility … usually desirable or happy thoughts.”
Interest in photogravure has been growing, says Miller, along with an understanding of its intrinsic scarcity and archival permanence. He talks about a growing hunger for handmade artwork. “There’s now a sort of revival of a 19th-century romantic notion of artwork, of the handmade … artwork that is not digital prints or coming from the mass media.”
This new wave of interest has brought Miller international recognition. His exhibitions last year included three shows in Japan (Yokohama, Kochi and Izu) and two in Russia (St Petersburg and Moscow). He’ll have a show in Lithuania from 18 April to 7 June, with a Japanese artist based in New York and a Czech artist from Paris.
“All three of us live and work in countries other than where we were born, and have worked in other fields besides art,” he explains. “With this exhibit, we are suggesting a notion of Asian art that is not confined to any national school or tradition, but is accessible to specialists and non-specialists alike.”
Miller’s uniqueness ensures he is never categorised and also gives him wider accessibility. Interestingly, he has found easy acceptance in Japan. “I think the fact that I’m not doing something traditionally Japanese has something to do with it.” He cites the many foreigners who studied a Japanese art form in the traditional way, and encountered limited acceptance. Photogravure etching has never been practiced in Japan as a traditional, fine art medium.
“The field in Japan has always been wide open … in a sense, there’s no competition,” he adds with a laugh.
When Miller’s work was shown in Russia and France, people were also very accepting. “The details of one’s biography, what sort of work one did in the past, where one was born and grew up … they’re interesting, but also incidental to a lot of viewers in the world today, which is an indication of what’s going on in the art world.”
He recalls one encounter with a French TV journalist. “The journalist felt I might be going against the grain of contemporary art and said, ‘Oh, so you’re making a revolutionary statement, aren’t you?’ But I think contemporary art is nonsense. It’s an invention of people who have no visual sense at all.”
His advice to art buyers: “Ignore the critics, the art historians and curators, except those who inspire you. Let your curiosity be your guide as you learn more about what excites you. Your own well-informed vision is the best guide.”
Peter Miller: http://kamprint.com/
Original Post: http://eurobiz.jp/2014/05/the-precarious-artists-path/