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Henry Miller's Watercolors
December 8, 2009 1:41 PM   Subscribe

Henry Miller had always loved art. He first began painting after seeing some Turner prints in a Brooklyn department-store window. There was only one minor drawback: he couldn’t draw. But his best friend, Emil Schnellock, could, and Miller became his disciple. It wasn’t long before he realized that what he lacked in draftsmanship, he made up for in color and composition sense. (previously)
posted by Joe Beese (9 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
he couldn’t draw

man they weren't exaggerating with that one, were they?



PS, I think you swapped your links?
posted by nathancaswell at 2:51 PM on December 8, 2009


I'm looking at the pictures in these links and, honestly, most of them look like the colors are straight out of the tube. Not what I'd call sophisticated color sense. There's a lively sort of Cubism in the linework of some of the later pieces, but that was kind of the style of the day anyway.

If I saw someone asking "how do I get better" on Deviantart with a gallery full of these pieces, I'd point them to the same place I point any other self-taught beginner: a collection of John K's posts on drawing for animation.

Maybe I'm just an unreconstructed out-of-date representationalist, an uneasy cartoony bedfellow with traditionalist painters who'd reject me right along with folks who think endlessly revisiting Duchamp's "Fountain" gag is evergreen. I dunno. Seeing these crude, garish scribbles going for more than my entire artistic education cost is kind of a slap in the face.
posted by egypturnash at 3:35 PM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


That first article is an interesting read. As a teenager, Henry Miller was one of my biggest heros. His epic telling (in Sexus, Plexus, and Nexus, especially) of his own escape from a stupid, dull and hopeless existence in New York to the liberation of the soul that, for him, was Paris, was something that resonated profoundly. It gave strength and hope to a teenager feeling more than a little trapped and dissatisfied with life in the American suburbs.

In more recent years I've gone back to some of Miller's stuff, the works that were so influential and inspiring to me back then, rereading bits and pieces here and there. I'm less dazzled now than I was as a 17-year-old, for sure (much of his life-on-the-edge ethic now seems a bit irresponsible, particularly in regard to his continual leeching off friends), but reading just a couple of quotes from Miller from the linked article reminds me of why he held a special place in my heart:

“Who knows what is good for man in this life? Poverty is one of the misfortunes people seem to dread even more than sickness . . . But is it so dreadful? For me this seemingly bleak period was a most instructive one, because not being able to write for money I had to turn to something else to keep going. It could have been shining shoes; it happened to be watercolors."

"Nowhere have I encountered such a dull, monotonous fabric of life as here in America. What have we to offer the world beside the superabundant loot which we recklessly plunder from the earth under the maniacal delusion that this is a sane activity? The land of opportunity has become the land of senseless sweat and struggle."


He called 'em like he saw 'em, and he wasn't afraid to speak his mind. And that last quote in particular (from The Air Conditioned Nightmare) was certainly against-the-grain of popular thought when it was written in 1945.

As for his watercolors, I like them. They exhibit a wonderful sense of playfulness and spontaneity. They look like they were fun to paint, like Miller was having fun. And ain't nothing wrong with that.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:43 PM on December 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


As for his watercolors, I like them. They exhibit a wonderful sense of playfulness and spontaneity. They look like they were fun to paint, like Miller was having fun. And ain't nothing wrong with that.

Indeed, I came expecting the worst, and was charmed by the late watercolors. The drawings, well...
posted by Faze at 4:02 PM on December 8, 2009


What have we to offer the world beside the superabundant loot which we recklessly plunder from the earth

I love how he completely ignores the fact that he couldn't do his watercolors if someone out there wasn't working like a dog to dig the ores or gather the herbs required to get the dyes. That "superabundant loot" also means paper, brushes, and paints.

Somehow, I think his opinion of the "senseless sweat and struggle" would have changed right quick if nobody was doing it.
posted by Malor at 6:20 PM on December 8, 2009


Yes, it was only the heroic efforts of Capitalists that made it possible for us to express ourselves artistically. Nobody ever derived pigments from berries or canvases from natural fibers prior to that. Thank our big red white and blue multinational predatory sociopathy for the history of art!

Just kidding (sort of.)

Miller was a revelation for me when I was a bit more young and less gristled. Thank you for this post, joe. That guy could write about anything and make it interesting and full of the love of life.

Nothing to sneeze at, that.
posted by metagnathous at 6:49 PM on December 8, 2009


less gristled
grizzled?
posted by lathrop at 7:08 PM on December 8, 2009


Yes, grizzled. Thank you.

The other might actually work, though, come to think of it.
posted by metagnathous at 7:14 PM on December 8, 2009


Nobody ever derived pigments from berries or canvases from natural fibers prior to that.

There wasn't a whole lot of watercoloring going on before paper.
posted by Malor at 4:41 AM on December 9, 2009


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