David Miller RBA

1931 – 2021

David studied at the Regent’s Polytechnic School of Art from 1954 until 1959. He had arrived at the Regent’s Poly after a stint in the Royal Navy. It had become clear that, with his rebellious, sensitive and liberal nature, he wasn’t designed for military service. Even so, his love of boats and the sea remained, and he would remember naval service, as he would so much of his life, with amusing stories like the one in which the navy’s cricket team stole the ensign from a South African naval vessel at port.

So, in 1954 with his arrival at the Regent’s Poly, art, primarily oil painting, became the focus of his life. Luckily for David, Norman Blamey, a wonderful draughtsman with a gentle presence and oblique teaching approach, was just the teacher he needed at this time. Norman would go on to become a close friend and mentor for many years.

David first showed an interest in art when he would draw cartoons on his letters home from his boarding school in Scotland. As a boy with dyslexia, he struggled to learn to read but enjoyed maths and developed a passion for science which would later inform his understanding of perception of light and colour. This also sparked his love of learning and a preoccupation with the Renaissance. As with so many artists before him, he was blown away by he saw in the galleries of Florence and Rome on a trip through Italy. Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Botticelli and Veronese remained significant influences along with Holbein, Vermeer, Van Dyke, Ingres, Velasquez, Manet, and Cassatt among many others.

With a family to support, he was forced to earn a regular income teaching and, eventually, running a thriving liberal arts department in Lambeth for the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA). In order to make his life easier by automating some of his work, he learned over the course of a frustrating summer to program a UK101, one of the earliest computers, in BASIC. In 1987 he was lucky enough, with ILEA’s dissolution, to be offered early retirement, and so embarked on the most productive and happy years of his creative and artistic life.

He exhibited primarily with the RBA, first in 1989, and was elected a member in 1995. He was passionately committed to the society, and served on the committee. There he developed deep, loyal and supportive friendships with Peter Kelly and Ronald Morgan, their little group named affectionately the Three Musketeers. In 1994 he was a finalist in the Hunting Prize. He was elated to be made a Senior Member in 2020. He also championed the careers of various women artists such as Barbara Richardson and Laura Hardy both of whose work he admired greatly. Their friendship, admiration and support was professionally mutual as the three of them shared models to save money, Laura even appearing reflected in a mirror in the background of one painting.

During these years, he exhibited regularly with the Royal Society of Portrait Painters (RP) and from 2013 to 2016 was an associate member, missing out by one vote on full membership — a painful experience. Nonetheless, his work was ’highly commended’ by the RP in 1996, and in 2011 he won the ‘Prince of Wales Drawing Award’.

David was a wonderful colourist and draughtsman who mainly focused on figurative painting and drawing. Although accused of being an academic painter, he was always a non-conformist at heart who saw his work primarily as abstract relationships of light, colour and tone. And while his enjoyment of colour is in keeping with his vibrant, extroverted, sometimes demanding presence, he often painted his subjects with a restraint consistent with his more sensitive, private self, and his more formal upbringing in Northern Ireland.

He was a wonderfully supportive and loving father, a deeply loyal and caring friend, and a man of principle and integrity who was pained by injustice and prepared to speak out when he saw it. His great passions were his children, art, science, cricket and boats, along with a desire for a fairer world. His uncompromising nature could make him infuriating, but the energy, suffering and passion that underpinned it expressed his deep commitment to living a meaningful and authentic life. He meant well, played when he could and loved generously and deeply.

He is survived by his two children, Catherine and Ewen, his three granddaughters, Imogen, Ella and Grace, and some beautiful paintings and drawings.

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David Miller RBA
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