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Jeff Miller’s Love of Hanging

Artist Jeff Miller at home. | DAVID NOH

BY DAVID NOH | There is a terrific and quite gay as a goose art exhibit at the Atlantic Gallery on now, “Connection II: An Invitational Exhibition of  Artists Selecting Artists.” I attended the opening on July 13, and it was the most convivial gathering of like-minded art lovers, both familiar and otherwise, reassuringly proving that Manhattan hasn’t been completely Chipotle’d over and still retains the right kind of verve, although rarer these days.

I’ve long admired Jeff Miller’s romantic and witty celebrations of the male form and face, and positively adored his intricate sketch of a sexy, scruffy hipster, along with George Towne’s exquisitely wrought portrait of the iconic artist Robert Richards and deliciously pastoral rendering of a well-known corner — Fire Island’s celebrated Meat Rack.

A few days later, in his splendid, sun-filled West End Avenue digs, Miller, who helped organize the show, poured us some lovely rosé, and observed, “The Atlantic is an artist-owned gallery, and the show was really open to members of the gallery to participate and invite their friends. There are about 70 pieces, and the artists I invited to participate are Joseph Cavalieri, George Towne, Kent Lau, and John MacConnell. In terms of my own work, I like to quote Paul Cadmus, who said, ‘It’s an artist’s limitations that make his style.’ I always like to quote that because it shows why my art is so stylish.”

Wonderful artist who makes his own way, plus Kerr fare at MoMA

It was no surprise to find that Miller surrounds himself with beauty, be it his adorable cat, Thisbe, or the ravishing male nude sculptures he creates in plaster which glow like marble, or parian ware at least. And, as pleasurable as the visuals is his eloquent  and elegant conversation, interspersed as it is with snatches of Cole Porter’s juicier songs, or, at one point, his memorable reciting of Baudelaire’s poem “L’invitation au voyage.”

A work by Jeff Miller on exhibit at Chelsea’s Atlantic Gallery through July 29. | COURTESY: JEFF MILLER

“I’m not that interested in clothed figures or color, “he said. “That’s why I’m really not a painter, more of a draughtsman. Most recently, I tried my hand at plaster sculpture. It starts off with this disgusting green stuff which never hardens and is built up on an armature. There’s no way to make it permanent, except to make a plaster mold of it and then replace it with plaster. The process is nightmarish as your original is completely destroyed; there’s no going back.

“In my last show, I showed these four pieces involving a nude man with an overcoat and a fan. For my next show, I am working on a series of nudes using the same model with a psychological throughline. Seven years ago, I had a show of drawings and felt stuck, as you do. I thought of doing something different — sculpture — and I signed up for a class at the Art Students League.

“I had this very arrogant idea that it wasn’t going to be a terrible leap for me. And it turned out to be really easy. Although you are working in 3D, you’re still working from the line. The thing I love about this one is the vent in the coat.”

Miller was born in Manhattan in a small private hospital on East 61st Street between Madison and Park.

“My birth certificate says I was born at the Leroy Sanitarium, as it was called. Isn’t that hilarious?”

His father owned his own steel pipe distributing company.

Male nude sculptures by Jeff Miller in his apartment on West End Avenue. | DAVID NOH

“The Ideal Supply Company, where I got my ideals [chuckles]. I  went to P.S. 99 in Kew Gardens but in  the middle of third grade we moved to Scarsdale, where I went to public school. I went to Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, and after that, law school.

“I went to Brooklyn Law School and am still practicing — fractions of the day over the course of centuries. I did practically everything, but used to be principally a litigator. But you cannot devote your mornings to drawing and litigation at the same time. Litigation is a way of life — such an investment of time and attention and stress — unbelievable. If you have to be a lawyer, it’s probably the most exciting thing to do. I sometimes feel nostalgic about litigation and these moods can sometimes last as long as 30 seconds [smiles].

“There’s a great deal of artfulness if that’s the kind of art you want to do. A lot of it is writing, which is extremely important, and what I was very good at was written and oral presentation. In my day, I was actually very good in court. To get up on your hind legs in front of the jury, to get over all the inertia and terror and having done the work, it can be a blast and really the best thing about doing litigation. You have stories that you can dine out on for years.

“Mostly what I do now is publishing-related law, prepublication, I review  book manuscripts and magazine copy before it goes to print. Basically, you read it and anything that’s iffy or could be problematic, whoever is your vis-a-vis, sometimes the author, usually the editor, or sometimes a fact checker, you have to ask how do we know if this is true? Most of the time they know, but  sometimes they don’t and then we have to do something about it, either more research, or tweak it, or, in the worst situation, cut it.”

Miller is such a total celebrant of life I was surprised when we were talking about the dearly departed, downright wild and crazy 1970s, that he had nothing to say.

“I missed the ‘70s… I wasn’t there. I was nowhere: I wasn’t out. I was one of these neurotic asexual queens forever and ever. I was a  real nowhere man for a long, long time.

“I was attracted to guys from junior high, but was with women in a very limited way. I actually lived with a woman for a few years and we got married, and what a fucking nightmare that was! I told her what was up with me from the get-go and she was, and would have had to have been, out of her fucking mind.

“The divorce was not that ugly. It took a long time to do and I had to handle it with the utmost patience and tact, but in the end it was okay. It just took a long time. But the relationship was a nightmare. Five years is a long time,  until I could not bear it another second. I’d had some very, very limited experience with men beforehand. I really did not know what I was missing, and had she not been utterly impossible to live with, I might have stayed with her and had a family. She had really nice qualities: very cute, smart, insightful, and funny, but I am so grateful we did not have children because I never would have been free.

“I called my law partner whom I’ve known since high school, and he came over and we grabbed some stuff. He had a second bedroom in his apartment and I lived with him for the better part of eight months, as it took some time for me to just exhale and get over this.  That day is my personal national holiday when I take myself out for a drink and toast my good fortune. We observe this on Presidents’ Day, that Monday.

“Eventually, I was able to get an apartment of my own and get back to the gym because marriage does terrible things to a man. I picked up some cute guy at the Vanderbilt YMCA and we had dinner and he came over to my place on Saturday night, the  first guy in eight years, totally cute, and I thought maybe he’ll spend the weekend with me. He had just gotten his new inline skates and had to go and try them out the next day, so that didn’t happen. But I had tickets for a Beethoven concert and during the intermission, I saw this very attractive guy and we chit-chatted and wound up having a marvelous time! My real life had finally begun!”

Along with his quite magnificent art, Miller takes deep pride in another talent, hanging a show.

“One of the things I do for the gallery is I’m like captain of the hanging crew. It was not too crowded this year. Last year we had something like 170 pieces as opposed to this show’s 70. That was challenging to hang and although it was too much, we managed. It’s nice to do something for my friends, and it’s a real interesting process, and a lot of fun.

“It’s this complicated aesthetic puzzle, because we come in Sunday morning, just me and two other people, and we don’t know what to do with all this art all over the place. The question is how do you take all this different stuff in terms of style and size and make it into a coherent exhibit? I have my method, and you’re right, you always need at least one gay man on a hanging crew because, to quote ‘Boys in the Band,’ it takes a fairy to make something pretty!”

With her pristine beauty, comfortingly cultivated voice, and eternal, womanly poise, Deborah Kerr was the very model of an English rose, parlaying those qualities into a career of international stardom impressive for its longevity and quality.

Deborah Kerr in 1947’s “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp,” at MoMA on August 9. | MOMA.ORG

To recognize this, MoMA has organized a nifty retrospective entitled “The Impeccable Deborah Kerr” through the rest of the summer, and I can think of no better way to beat the heat than settling down with this ever-cool, yet never Grace Kelly-icy paragon of femininity on one of her explorations into the complexity of the human heart.

She’s at her best, directed by the kaleidoscopic Michael Powell in the epic and deeply moving “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp” (Aug. 9, 1 p.m.), personifying the ideal British woman in three different roles in the Boer War and both World Wars, and she is the ambivalent, all too human fulcrum at the center of the fervid exoticism and sexual repression of Powell’s “Black Narcissus” (Aug. 10, 1 p.m.), one of the most visually and emotionally astonishing films ever made. She gave her sexiest performance in Fred Zinnemann’s entertaining “The Sundowners” (Jul. 27, 1:30 p.m.) in which she got to be bawdily Australian for a change and had the devastatingly alpha Robert Mitchum to sensually ooze over.

As Laura, the homophobic gym teacher’s wife in Vincente Minnelli’s oftimes excruciating “Tea and Sympathy” (Aug. 31, 1:30 p.m.), she is a tortured, effeminate, and bullied boy’s solace, memorably delivering that simperingly unholy last line about remembering with kindness as only she could. She was Oscar-nominated for both Zinnemann’s “From Here to Eternity” (Aug. 16, 1:30 p.m.) and Walter Lang’s “The King and I” (Jul. 20 & Aug. 11 at 1:30 p.m.), but I find her unconvincing as a very American adulteress in the first (Joan Crawford should have done it) and plain dull and decidedly unmusical (dubbed by the ubiquitous  Marni Nixon) in “The King and I.” She rather overdid the mousiness in Delbert Mann’s “Separate Tables,” (Jul. 26 & Aug. 30, 1:30 p.m.) really couldn’t do much with her thankless role in Otto Preminger’s “Bonjour Tristesse” (Jul. 21 & Aug. 23, 1:30 p.m.), and was completely defeated by the overheated tripe that was Elia Kazan’s “The Arrangement” (Aug. 2 & 24, 1:30 p.m.) — something you could hate that director for as much his despicable tattling in the McCarthy Era — but, still, there can be no denying that the world was a better place in general for her presence.


CONNECTIONS II: An Invitational Exhibition of Artists Selecting Artists | Atlantic Gallery, 547 W. 27th St., Suite 540 | Through Jul. 29: Tue.-Sat., noon-6 p.m.; open until 8 p.m. on Thu. | atlanticgallery.org

THE IMPECCABLE DEBORAH KERR | Museum of Modern Art Modern Matinees, 11 W. 53rd St. | Through Aug. 31 | $12; $10 for seniors; $8 for students at moma.org

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