A fifth generation Californian, Greg Miller’s ancestors were dairy farmers in the mountainous gold and timber laden regions of the state, and they made their fortune by greasing the logging sluices in the days before the discovery of petroleum.
Forgotten stories of another time infuse Miller’s passion. The long forgotten ciphers of humans as they passed through a place looking to leave their mark on the world resonated strongly with him while he was still a child. “My grandmother would take me to these ghost towns when I was a kid,” says Miller. “The amazing found objects, the writing on the walls, the oddities, the Indians. As a young kid I always wanted to be the storyteller of my generation.”
Miller has retained his passion for storytelling as an adult, and the narratives he shares are not words on a page, but rather large-scale artworks featuring layers upon layers of cultural references from bygone eras. Like a peeling billboard alongside a desolate stretch of highway in the Iowa plains, his work is comprised of once vital messages now forgotten by time and distance.
History and memory both play a vital role in Miller’s artwork, which references a fading Americana nostalgia. His art is populated by iconic imagery of the ‘50s and ‘60s — vintage billboards promoting soda or cigarettes, advertising ephemera and glamorous women from the film noir era (sexy, tough, heroic). Because he’s a storyteller, there are words here too, such as “Life” or “Look,” taken from their namesake magazines, along with the occasional lone word, sentence fragment or found object. “It’s a broken up sentence,” he explains of his work. “The story is not complete in itself. It covers sex, politics, love, nature, and time. Each of those elements is in every painting but the story is abstract. I’ll make out these equations, then I try to fill those equation holes.” “There’s a mythology that drives my work,” he adds. “I think I’m telling the story of my generation, even if no one cares anymore.”
For Miller, the artistic vision came about in large part as a result of working around a serious stumbling block in his quest to be a storyteller — major dyslexia. After all, it’s hard to tell a tale if you can’t put your thoughts into words. So as a young student, Miller found ways to shift his focus in order to get the message out and pass his classes. “I had bad dyslexia, so I was always in the principal’s office,” he says. “It was always going to be art. I had to make something to give the teachers so I wouldn’t get an F. The Christmas poster, or a report on Mexico.”
Passions are like that. They inform your way of being to the point that they’ll find a way to come back in a different form if something gets in their way. “Everything in my life in terms of being a person with passion has lined up in my favor,” he adds. “I can’t have a normal job. But I can make this thing, and maybe you’ll hang it on your wall.”
Miller has also found a way to merge his artistic ability with another passion — surfing. While looking to buy a house in East Hampton, Miller formed a friendship with his real estate agent, John Healey, also an avid surfer. Together, the two opened Surfari Crossroads, a Sag Harbor gallery featuring art by Miller that relates to their mutual passion for catching waves.
This art form dates back to Miller’s time living in Venice Beach where he would scout neighborhood alleys in search of old surfboards he could transform with collage and paint into works of art. He would then donate the boards for charity art auctions to benefit good causes. “For 30 years I’ve done this. Now they’re popular,” he says of his surfboard art. “We opened in Sag Harbor and have boards collected from around the country. We paint them and resin them and sell them as their own entity. It’s kind of cool.”
Never one to miss the opportunity to be a storyteller, the gallery’s name is actually a clever play on the spelling of Miller’s dairy farming ancestor, Sophary Euer. Another forgotten tale transformed and revisited for a different coast in a different time. “The passion for me has always been to tell this great story,” says Miller.
So ultimately what is the story of Greg Miller’s generation?
“I’m still going through it. It changes all the time.”