Lawrence Charles Miller comes from a family of doers, of blue-collar hard workers. His father delivered ice cream in Philadelphia and his grandfather was a "subterranean" cobbler in Harrisburg. He wonders what they could've done in different circumstances, if they didn't have to "grapple" with life.
In his art studio in the Pajama Factory, he held a picture of his father, who was in a three-point stance in his football uniform, and said, "He had blonde hair and blue eyes and he was the type of guy who could walk into any place and make an impression." His grandfather was so dedicated to fixing shoes that he withstood several robberies in a bad neighborhood, during which he was beaten by his bread-and-butter, shoes, until one last, brutal attack with a heel forced him into retirement at the age of 78.
Since Miller was a child, he knew he wanted to be an artist. When he was in eighth grade, in Harrisburg in the '60s, he thought, "Enough of (New York City), just let me get over there and let me get started already." This ambition has never subsided. Even after having worked for the Washington Post, The Philadelphia Inquirer and The New York Times, working as the head of the art department of the U.S. Army War College and as an artist a research laboratory at Penn State, he's still driven and fearless when it comes to art and life.
The art of Lawrence Charles Miller, pictured, is featured in the “Drawing Breath” exhibit at Converge Gallery, which opens tonight.
But that doesn't mean he has an agenda. He bemoans art that "has a thesis" and seeks to discover through his work rather than dictate.
"I'm just doing ... a picture I'm hungry to see," he said. "And I'm taking it on chance. It's a proposition. Is someone else going to see what this is? Probably not. But what do I have to lose? I have nothing now and I'll have nothing in the future. If it doesn't go my way ... I really don't care (laughs)."
He wants art to be about feeling, about love and - in a manner of speaking - to be sexual. He said, "It's a hum. It's a sexual thing in some ways. But it's cerebral. I mean sexual in that it's a sort of percussive hum. It's the geography of the body. It's beauty. It's resonance."
WHO: Local artist Lawrence Charles Miller
WHAT: "Drawing Breath" art exhibition
WHEN: Opening - 6 p.m. tonight
WHERE: Converge Gallery, 140 W. Fourth St.
He was quick to point out that these aren't original thoughts and that he agrees with something art critic David Hickey said about bringing art back to beauty.
"He described something in one of his lectures," Miller said. "Beauty is like rubbing up against a woman's breasts on the subway, you know, by accident. And you have this charge of excitement of, um, whatever the term is to describe that. It's an accidental thing and you don't want to react, but you do. I think beauty is like that."
In some ways, Miller sees his art as sort of the antithesis of pop art (an artform that is obsessed with commercialism and celebrity) which, in his opinion, has worn out its welcome. He told the story of seeing Andy Warhol's first televised interview on PBS, a channel that had just become available in Harrisburg, as a kid.
"I listened to this interview and I thought the man was a genius," Miller said. "The way he controlled the interview, you could tell that he was smart and unusual and one-of-a-kind. But I'm an old man and I was 12 years old then and we're still carrying on about this guy."
One of Miller's favorite references for what he wants out of art is Vincent Van Gogh, who typically brought the focus back to love. In a letter to his brother Theo, Van Gogh wrote, "It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love, is well done."
Miller said, "We've played every possible joke in art and I think of Van Gogh's letters and say, 'But what about love? What about real feeling?' "
For his latest series, the work that will comprise his upcoming exhibition "Drawing Breath" at Converge Gallery, 140 W. Fourth St., Miller was, at least in part, inspired by "Fraktur," a type of folk art created by Pennsylvania Germans who resided in remote parts of Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries. Miller said the Fraktur illuminated manuscripts looked like "visual jazz" and he was influenced by the "colors and the decorative elements," among other aspects.
The opening for "Drawing Breath" will be held at 6 p.m. tonight. The exhibit will be on display until April 26.
For more information, visit www.convergegallery.com.