James Miller is a painter living in Montreal.Inspired by his love for the great masters such as Caravaggio and Delacroix he revisits classic themes and combine them with social commentary and criticism as viewed from a compassionate vegan, perhaps subversive perspective.
James Miller: Ultimately, passion for my subjects is what motivates, or compels me to paint. That said, subjects that impassion me seem to be either those I love, or, those that symbolize the milestones of our civilization's downfall. I'm self-critical, and critical of my society, nation, civilization, and species. Murder, torture, and destruction committed in my name, (with my tax contributions) albeit against my will, both, angers, and inspires me, as do the subsequent rationalizations of the unpleasant consequences of human collectivism by those responsible.
I endeavor to assume the perspective of our collectives' human or non-human, victims and paint the grim reality thus revealed.
While the majority of decorative and commercial art (and entertainment) distracts the viewer from our twisted reality, I prefer to expose it; I take pleasure in antagonizing or provoking those who would prefer to turn away and deny their due share of responsibility, and also, in providing, affirmation, and sometimes, humorous respite to those who share my perspective.
The Montreal Review: Your paintings have a strong social and political message and perhaps many people would not accept them. The artists are sensitive individuals, very often they say truths through their paintings that cannot be said with words or seen in an ordinary way. Through your art, you criticize politicians and religious leaders, how are you sure that you are ultimately right? The person, the particular leader, in my opinion, is never the source of the evil, especially in democracy; ultimately, the responsibility is always in the hands of the average person, the person from the street, who with his indifference, egoism, and fear makes the bad things happen.
James Miller: While I agree that the responsibility for the unpleasant consequences of collectivism; industrial, military, and social atrocities, is born 100% with the individual, I like to use images of politicians, and religious leaders, etc. as mirrors for ourselves. Let's face it; on the most basic level, if I spend $1, a token for my labor, I effectively relinquish ethical control over it; Within a transaction or two it will most certainly pay for that which I am, and possibly most every other member of my collective is, ethically opposed to. Such is the nature of modern collectivism. A well designed (ideal) collective would be immune to the personalities of individual politicians. I don't believe that a visit to the voting booth can significantly change anything, and furthermore, I don't believe that revolution would, over time, yield anything much better.
The Montreal Review: I have a favourite philosopher. His name is Karl Popper, he wrote the famous book "The Open Society and its enemies." In an interview, which Popper gave during the Cold War, he said that people living in the West do not value enough democracy and sometimes the intellectual political radicalism [because of its intolerance] is as much dangerous to our liberties as the passivity. As a socially engaged artist, do you agree with this opinion?
James Miller: It's not clear to me that "Democracy" as in "for the people" exists. It seems to me that it's been circumvented by industry to "serve" a small group of misguided, or perhaps even, diabolical individuals. It would appear as though people remain fairly passive as long as they are not lining up for their bread. It also would appear as though there's too much inertia in the current trend for it to stop.
The Montreal Review: You often paint killed or tortured animals; your oil paintings are produced only with vegan materials and pigments. Why?
James Miller: I love animals, I find them beautiful, and I identify with them. Like the rest of us they are helplessly subject to the influence of those who wish to exploit them. My "animal rights" paintings try, but really fail, to express the predicament, and unimaginable pain and suffering endured by the beautiful, sensitive creatures industrially processed and senselessly and needlessly killed only to contribute to our ill health.
Naturally, in our society, it's impossible to be "Vegan" in that even purchasing animal free products produces profits and taxes inevitably directed to non-vegan causes. That said, to the extent that I can I try to mostly direct my spending away from blatantly atrocious industry, and towards those products that (perhaps falsely) claim to reflect my ethics.
The Montreal Review: Which are your favourite subjects for painting?
James Miller: I often enjoy painting classical works using contemporary subjects. When reworking a favorite Caravaggio painting, I feel a connection to the painter. During the painting process, there are moments where it feels as if I can see through Caravaggio's eyes, and feel as he did.
Traditional classic themes generally convey a commonly understood meaning. Invoking these themes facilitates clearly expressing a message. My paintings however, go beyond expressing the traditional message, and also incorporate contemporary subjects to express contemporary ideas as well.
Occasionally, a current event or image strongly compels me. Almost to the point where I feel I have no choice but to express something. Sometimes to take revenge, express outrage, or to lay blame.
The Montreal Review: Which are your favourite books, painters, and musicians?
James Miller: However blood spattered and gory, I find great beauty in the Iliad. I love how both the Iliad and The Epic of Gilgamesh show human nature in its unveiled beauty. I love The Odyssey and the Greek Tragedies as well. I find Kafka very satisfying and love Vonnegut...
I love Bach.
If I had to pick a favorite painter, I guess it would be Caravaggio. I love Delacroix and greatly enjoy Ilya Repin from a technical perspective. I enjoy Picasso as well. I love art that makes me cry, or laugh.