Sleeping boys and other portraits

Rachel Miller

Photo By Larry Dalton

It’s funny who you meet when you’re interviewing someone else downtown. I was walking toward Peet’s Coffee with Mason Machado when we happened to bump into a local artist friend of his by the name of Rachel Miller. In a brief conversation, she told us what she’d been up to, saying that she’d kicked her old drinking habit (as well as a few others) and gotten really into painting—to the point of turning it into a summer vacation even, teaching at a conference for 18-year-olds in Switzerland for a week. Miller then whipped out a pocket gallery that she carries with her (visit her Web site at The portraiture in the pocket book was stunning, but it was nothing compared with the actual pieces in her house, which also doubles as her studio.

Did you ever figure when you were a kid that you’d be doing art as your profession?

I guess when I was 12, I told my dad that I wanted to be an artist, and he told me later on in my life that he secretly thought to himself, “Oh, that sucks. She can’t even draw.” So, years later, when I did this painting of Marilyn Monroe, he came up and gave me the props finally.

What qualities do you like to see most in art?

I like when it can reach an ideal of certain elements, like a portrait of someone where you really get a feeling of the person, which is part of what I aspire to, and the ability to communicate extreme concentration, which you can see in any of the minimalist art. I don’t think there’s a formula for good art, though. I’ve been drawn to being able to convey something you can see expressed in one individual.

Are there any events in your life that have inspired any art pieces?

Yeah. I’d have to say that in a lot of ways it’s been lovers. I did a whole series called “Sleeping Boy.” I had a lover who would pass out and sleep pretty solid, so I would paint him, and it was great because he was such a good model, and he’d sleep in very odd positions. It was great because I could work stuff out while I was painting.

Have there been any life changes that have helped you personally?

I was into meth for a while, and I used to smoke a lot of herb. I had a ritual for a while where I’d smoke a bowl and then paint. I quit drinking for three-and-a-half months. I’ll have a drink every once in a while, but I’ve really removed it as a habit. It’s such a dramatic thing to change habits like that. I never considered myself an alcoholic, but when I quit drinking, I felt a kind of lightness that I hadn’t felt in a while. I always feared that sobriety would kill my creative drive, but it hasn’t. Since I was 18, I hadn’t ever gone without a drink, so it’s really cool to see that the creativity is still there.

Do you do anything other than art to pay the bills?

I teach yoga at Deep. That’s my consistent income, but I think I have a higher income through art, depending on the month. I also teach at Yoga Loka, which is an older studio in town. I’ve found that it’s very much connected to my art. Teaching yoga and painting are all practices of honesty.

What’s your favorite piece of your art?

I like pretty much everything that I do, and that’s kind of my thing is that I joke about being a shitty painter, but I keep persevering. I did a painting of O’Sensei Morihei Ueshiba, the man who started aikido. That was a really wonderful gift, to be able to paint someone who has brought so much to the world.

Do you do any self-portraits, or are they mostly of other people?

I do a lot of self-portraits. The one on my card is called “My mouth is full of cheesecake.”

Are there any places or people that inspire you to be creative?

There’s been one person who I find is always inspiring for me. She lives in San Francisco. I’m kind of spoiled, really. I work all the time. It’s just a matter of showing up, standing in front of the canvas and doing something.

Do you have any shows coming up anytime soon?

I do have a showing in San Francisco in October, at a place called Medusalon, on Divisadero and Page. I’m excited about that one, but I definitely want to have an art show in Sacramento.

Is there a philosophy that your art contains, or is there a philosophy that you want to convey about art?

I feel that I’ve been put on this Earth to show people the beauty in them and others; that’s really been a motivating force. Revealing the spirit of people on canvas and really making them shine and showing people when their lights are really on.