Alexander Millar

Lollipops and 99s - Large by Alexander Millar
Lollipops and 99s by Alexander Millar
Mams, Dads, Aunties and Uncles - Large by Alexander Millar
Mams, Dads, Aunties and Uncles by Alexander Millar
Mam - Large by Alexander Millar
Mam by Alexander Millar
Dad - Large by Alexander Millar
Dad by Alexander Millar
Over The Sea (Portrait of Jesse Rae) by Alexander Millar
United We Stand by Alexander Millar
United We Stand - Large by Alexander Millar
Brothers In Arms by Alexander Millar
Brothers In Arms - Large by Alexander Millar
The Wonder Of It All by Alexander Millar
Alexander Millar is by his own admission fascinated by the life, loves and travails of the ordinary working man. The man on the street. The working class hero if you like a fighter, a lover, a doer and a giver. They say we’re all shaped and sculpted by our pasts, and in Millar’s case never a truer word has been spoken in haste. Deigned one of the UK’s foremost contemporary artists, Millar’s paintings have been exhibited far and wide, hang from many domestic walls and formed part of celebrated and sought-after collections. In his particular case, his background was rooted in predominantly proud, working class areas of both Scotland and then latterly, North East England. Coastal areas where inhabitants are raised within the shipbuilding, fishing, mining and steel manufacturing industries that themselves throw up a rich and diverse mix of denizens, tall of tale and strong of humour.

Born in prime colliery land in Kilmarnock on the western fringes of Scotland and in the shadows of the pits themselves, Millar’s childhood in Springside was visually littered with the trials and tribulations of working men and women, and tells of one of his earliest memories being of time spent in the presence of dark-suited old men with nicotine-stained teeth sat side by side with big-boned womenfolk attired in large overcoats, pinnies, tartan headscarves and those zipped booties that came complete with fake fur-lined tops. A vivid description that many of us belonging to a certain generation can instantly call to mind. More character observations were made when Millar poured over the daily comings and goings of these same individuals as they rode to work on their bikes and then later in the days and nights meandered, worse for wear from drinking establishments.

Millar witnessed these street ballets for weeks and months on end as a youngster, adolescent and then young man; all of which have been stored in his memory chips for later visitations. Millar’s enchantment with and visual documentation of this almost choreographed daily ritual of grandfather, father, son and grandson pits ordinary life from an almost bygone era in extraordinary light, and brings to life these ‘Gadgies’ through his impassioned, touching and very personal compositions. Millar’s obsession with expression and emotion affords us all an insight into the very hearts and souls of working men and women, in whom we all have an affinity with. In the late 1970s Millar upped Scottish sticks and relocated to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, swapping similar characters yet exchanging the relative calm and slow pace of semi-rural life for the hustle and bustle of hectic city life. Yet the proliferation of Gadgies never let up, as Millar sought inspiration from men and women from similar walks of life than those from home, yet lived on if anything a grander scale, and prey to a large audience.

After experiencing a number of transient careers to date, in 1988 Millar took the plunge and turned to art professionally, and set about making his living from his first love, despite never having been on the receiving end of any formal education within art. Self-taught, Millar had a natural gift and talent for capturing his subjects at work, rest and play, yet committing them to canvas was never quite plain sailing. Given their penchant for animated, colourful outbursts and gesturing whilst out and about on the streets of Newcastle, Millar’s work was more often than not cut out when attempting to create their precise likeness as a sketch, as his muses and oft-agitated, transient street furniture weren’t exactly prepared to sit for their portraits; had they actually been aware of their impending stardom in the first instance.

Millar goes on to describe how once he’s chosen a figure that he’s sketched at some point earlier – or a subject that he’s photographed, as is sometimes the alternate case – he then sets about transferring it to his canvas block as a dark silhouette. And that each individual layer of paint is then painstakingly added gradually to separate tones, implying that the figure itself – and the main crux of his compositions – is pretty much signed off before any of the background is formed. Of these under paints, Millar explains how a predominant blue is found dormant, and then built upon slowly to bring a warmth and depth with each subsequent layer. When this is complete the dark figure positively leaps forth from the canvas, and to finish off and give the figure movement Miller leaves the painting for a few days and will then even seek to remove some of the background colour and feather the legs and soften any harsh edges if needs be on returning.

As an artist, Millar has been recognized and acknowledged far and wide, both within the industry and from related ones. Sell-out exhibitions in which his art has been showcases to broad demographic audiences has caught the eye of many, including the Daily Mail newspaper who put forward one of Millar’s compositions for their ‘Not the Turner Prize’ competition in recent years, culminating in said piece making an appearance in the Mall Galleries in London as part of the process.

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