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Illustration
In Conversation with British Illustrator
Ian Miller
Indira Lakshmi Prasad


My mother worked for a company called Simmons in the 1950’s which was based in Covent Garden (London) and was perhaps one of the biggest theatrical milliners and were responsible for dressing actors in all the big films. My mother made Davy Crockett’s hat for Disney, hats for the cast of Moby Dick, Vanity Fair… all of the memorable films of the 1950’s, my mother’s hats were probably in them. It was a wonderful place, it’s not there anymore sadly but I used to be taken there as a child. It was an astonishing place.


Ian Miller is a British illustrator and author with a tenacious and vivid career behind him. His work is celebrated for its surreal, edgy and hypnagogic style which employs the lexicon of dreams and nightmares. The imagery of the mechanical and the organic are often stylistically blended together to create the unique character of his work, which has led him to become a key figure in fantasy illustration. He is well known for his works for Games Workshop, Fighting Fantasy and other gaming lines, as well as his Tolkien inspired illustrations and work for several publications including several of H.P Lovecraft’s titles. During the 70’s and 80’s Miller worked in collaboration with filmmaker Ralph Bakshi for the animated film ‘Wizards’ and again for the film ‘Cool World’. He has since been involved in preproduction work for the film ‘Shrek’ and contributed designs for the 2005 film ‘Mirror Mask’. A number of anthologies of Ian Miller’s work have been published over the years including ‘The Green Dog Trumpet And Other Stories’ a collaboration with James Slattery and ‘Secret Art’ both published by Dragons Dream. His most recent publication is a phantasmagoric diary come novel titled ‘The Broken Diary’ in which we are taken on an anarchic journey which flits between narratives, and jumps from fantasy to reality and back to a place where both exist simultaneously. Much like his visual works, familiar reality becomes blended with dream-state in Millers new book, which is a natural extension of the ongoing creative process. In conversation, illustrator and author Ian Miller candidly discusses his origins, career and thoughts on the current art scene, his new book and what it means to be an artist in the midst of a freemarket capitalist world.


I.P: By way of introduction could you tell us about your childhood? I’m aware your mother worked in theatre; did that have an influence on you at the time?

I.M: My mother worked for a company called Simmons in the 1950’s which was based in Covent Garden (London) and was perhaps one of the biggest theatrical milliners and were responsible for dressing actors in all the big films. My mother made Davy Crockett’s hat for Disney, hats for the cast of Moby Dick, Vanity Fair… all of the memorable films of the 1950’s, my mother’s hats were probably in them. It was a wonderful place, it’s not there anymore sadly but I used to be taken there as a child. It was an astonishing place. I grew up with chest loads of cast-offs, I had a full Sioux war bonnet, balaclavas from the Black Night, wonderful epilates with all the tassels on them from a Georgian film… And every Saturday my mother would take me to see one of the films she’d worked on. I grew up being taken to the cinema. There was always that theatre element in my childhood, and always that concept of storytelling. From an early age I grew up in a very pronounced fantasy world.

One day we had to move rather quickly unfortunately as my father, who was a very clever man, liked drinking. One day it got too much and we just left and moved up north. We moved from Chiswick in London to Manchester. As you can imagine it was a bit of a culture shock. We stayed with one of my mother’s brothers who ran a decorating business, so suddenly being taken from Chiswick Park to the back alleys of Moss Side (Manchester) was absolutely fascinating. Then I was shunted off to Scotland, and shunted around for quite a bit after that and most of the time I had to rely on my own resources. It’s not that I didn’t make friends, but a lot of the time I would sit and make things up.

I.P: Do you think that the constant change of scenery has influenced your practice?

I.M: I think it does because later on I became a great fan of L.S Lowry, some people think that his stick people are silly, but he was actually quite an astonishing artist. On the continent (Europe) they recognized him as something important even though he was ridiculed in this country (England). Now of course he’s established and it isn’t an issue anymore. But yes, I think that idea of Cloggs and hats and being around Manchester did have an impact on me a great deal. As a child you’re just on ‘receive’ and everything is all in-coming. It exposed me to an astonishing cross section of society from middle class London to working class Manchester. It was interesting in a very positive way, in terms of how we relate to people in different situations. If a situation is palatable you just make the necessary adjustments and get on with it.

When I was a child I went to stay with an aunt who ran a sweet shop. Although people thought I was very intelligent, it was almost an animal intelligence. I think I learnt to read reading the sweet jars. I’ve always been very pro back-runners, people who are considered to be write offs, I just don’t see that. With everybody it’s just a matter of the right buttons being pressed.


I.P: There’s so much emphasis on education these days, but some of the most valuable things are learnt through experience.
I.M: I was reading something years back which said the current education system is still based around the Victorian model. It’s not a system which actually deals with the pressures of today. Whether that’s true or not I don’t know. It’s just the way that education is structured; it’s obviously apparent looking around that there are so many kids who are adrift. It’s not that they’re stupid it’s a question of which buttons you have to press to engage them. There are many people who don’t have an issue with it and sail through the education system, but also so many who do have an issue with it.

Yes and even more so these days because of the sorts of pressures that the society we live in throws upon people, the pressure to be a success, the idea that if you’re a musician you’ve got to have ‘made it’ by age 25. I’ve never believed that, I’ve always believed that people evolve at different speeds. We all run the race at different speeds

There’s an old Irish saying ‘I wouldn’t start from here if I were you’ and I find that applies every time I try to plan my work. My practice is very emotively driven, it depends what mood I’m in. I’ve been doing this for a long time now and I never really start my work in the same way, the process is always changing and it’s often driven by mood. When anybody’s creating its often sheer passion and engagement of being possessed by the need to make a mark, or sound or movement which drives people. I don’t think there are any absolutes.

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