“Never blame anything on destiny. I have worked hard to attain what I have. A combination of many factors contributes to success. Luck plays a very small part.“
Brinda Miller is amongst a handful of female contemporary artists, based in India, to have achieved recognition internationally. Brought up in a family that was traditional, her journey as an artist has seen her step out of the norm to explore and stretch the possibilities of abstract expressionism. In her career which started with landscapes, her art evolved as she worked through many different processes including mixed media, focussing on three-dimensional elements, to meshing her deep interest in architecture in her latest paintings.
Married to eminent architect, Alfaz Miller, both their daughters are also architects. So it would seem natural for her paintings and mixed media work to have strong influences of structure and line. I caught up with Brinda for an afternoon interview over the phone. Articulate, intelligent and down-to-earth you sense the same methodical attention to detail in her paintings which are intricate and bursting with colour and form.
Her interest in textiles is evident in the patterning and symbolism which contributes to her style. I discovered that we both share a love of adventure after both being brought up in traditional Indian families. A known multi-tasker, Brinda, has been an important member of the Kala Ghoda festival as their Director for many years. A respected jurist, an advisory member of many prestigious art committees and art educational institutes and museums in addition to being an artist, Brinda Miller, represents every woman of India. She shares with me many anecdotes about her life and her career that have been the turning points on her path to success.
AA: What memories do you have at the time spent at JJ and how do you think art education has evolved in India since the 1970s and 80s? How is the method of teaching different between India and the US as you studied painting and drawing at the prestigious Parsons School of Design as well in New York in 1989?
BM: I have great memories of JJ because you know there have been many milestones in my life and JJ was like a big stepping stone from the school where I lead a very sheltered life. And of course, JJ was also a very sheltered life but the kind of academics and teachers we had back in shortly was in the late seventies, which was a long time ago and had a kind of grounding that was amazing and fantastic. I recently went back to JJ a couple of years back for a jury and I found that nothing has changed. That is the big drawback of JJ: it has not moved with the times. Now there are so many other mediums. There is so much digital work. It should come into especially design, if not fine art, at least into graphic design. It needs a different kind of approach to art. I feel this has not happened. Having said we do not have too many schools. Yes, we have many Polytechnic colleges which I won't say are bad, having said that, a school of art is a school of art and that is, you know, what one wants.
When I went to New York it was another milestone because it was a culture shock. Even though I had been exposed to a lot of the art world before then. I was there alone because I was away from my parents. It was like a new rebirth of sorts where I was absolutely on my own. I was taking my own decision whether it was what to cook for the day, where to go today, where to buy my art materials. New friends. Meeting new people. And their approach was so different. Their teaching was so different.
And you could go and work at night and it didn't matter if you ruined the floor or ruined your table and it didn't matter if paint splattered all over. JJ was not like that. JJ was very particular about which way you held the paper and held the pencil. There were differences between both but no regrets at all. I enjoyed both of them thoroughly in different ways. I mean both moulded me to do the kind of work I am doing now. So I believe it is this combination that has made me the artist I am today.
AA: As the mentor of the AVID Programme what do you give for emphasis as important learning concepts in an art programme. advising art students.
BM: With AVID, I began my role as a mentor. I have moved on since the last few years, as Advisor and Education Consultant at the children's museum and the education program for adults at the CSMVS Museum. Definitely education outside the colleges is also important. Lately, I see a lot of panel discussions and talks. Important to look for other resources for art education. Suddenly there is a real spate of online courses that were not there before. It is a good thing of course but on the other hand, there is nothing like actually going and being on-site and listening to people, being amongst a real audience. I hope we can go back to that shortly.
AA: What major changes in your opinion in the art scene in India since your first art exhibition at the Urjaa Art Gallery in 1982.
BM: There are so many new different mediums artists are now working with. Very interesting mediums. But for someone like me, I find them intimidating to understand but when you see it in a museum space it is fantastic. You wonder how artists survive because to sell art in my day one had to look at many other aspects of art outside of just creative passion.
It wasn't so much art would appreciate after ten or twenty years it was more about ok I like this I want to hang it on the wall and that was it and it wasn't so much about you know how much the price was per square inch or square centimetre now it has become all of that. For all of us, it came as a big shock. Although this happened gradually it's very hard to digest that part of it but on the other hand, there is more exposure and it has become a serious career option than it ever was. Before nobody thought of going to study art and make it a full-time profession it was always on the side. Art was always a side profession which now is not the case.
AA: How has it been you have been married to an architect and you're a director of your firm? How has that influenced your art in any way the structure, the use of colour?
BM: My last show was called "Vanishing Point" which is an architectural term. Both my husband and daughters are architects. I work in a studio in my husband's office so there are a lot of drawings and conversations happening around art and painting. Thus, there is a lot of influence. I use a lot of architectural forms, straight lines, perspectives. I think the 3-dimensional in my work is also very architectural. There is a combination of influences. I am also influenced by textiles. All of that is influencing me.
AA: Can you talk a little bit more about "Vanishing Point" from your previous landscape themes. Now it's been more about principles of architecture and urban scape abstraction, your angles, arches and eclipses.
BM: There is a similarity between architecture and nature. When I started I did a lot of landscapes or I would call them now archiscapes. At the same time, there is a lot of nature. Everything is made up of a basic form whether, square, circle, triangle or rectangle. Architecture is also like that. Architectures also like that it's about going three dimensional going deeper into it. If you look at the horizon which is a slightly curved line; if you look at the sun which could be an ellipsis or the moon it could be crescent. So everything has a basic shape involved so that is how I combined both these elements of architecture with nature in my work.
“Needless to say, my art imitates my life.”
AA: You have said that in a linear perspective drawing the point of convergence is a spot on the horizon line where the receding parallel lines appear to meet. You also said the lines remind me about the kind of life I have a lead which has converged at various points the diverse career options I have had and the things I do. Can you talk about this and the converging points that have shaped your career and life?
BM: I am also a multi-tasker you could say not only in my career but in my life. They say art imitates life and life imitates art. There is also an eclectic and mixed media side to me. All my life is mixed media. I eat fusion food