Meet Dartmoor artist Andrew Miller
PUBLISHED: 10:47 31 March 2015 | UPDATED: 10:47 31 March 2015
Matt Austin Images 2013
ANDREA KUHN meets an artist who finds the rugged conditions and landscapes of Dartmoor both an inspiration and a challenge
Photography by Matt Austin
Artist Andrew Miller has a love hate relationship with Dartmoor. He loves the mercurial nature of the landscape, the changing light and the changing seasons - but it can be one of most challenging places to work.
“One minute it can be very sunny and the next very black,” he says. “It’s very dramatic. But I love the fact it’s a truly wild space and it seems so far away from everything else.
“Spring is one of my favourite times because I love all the fresh growth, it’s a wonderful time of year but I also love autumn. Dartmoor is such an amazing landscape because, of course, you have that huge sky.” Born on a farm in Littlehempston, near Totnes, Andrew spent his childhood in Devon, moving to Holsworthy when his father became manager of a large poultry unit there.
He realised he had a talent as teenager and spent hours drawing detailed pictures of birds. It eventually led him to Eastbourne College of Art and after graduating he worked as an illustrator of children’s natural history books.
He says it was enjoyable but when he was increasingly asked to do illustrations of strawberries for supermarket products he felt it was time to move on.
So he began to paint the Devon landscapes that he saw around him. He was drawn to Dartmoor, particularly the Western tip around Moorhaven, where he now lives, and its inhabitants, from farm workers to members of the South Devon Hunt.
“I’m interested in way people are going about their lives on the moor,” he says. “I look at the local hunt, it’s still such an important part of the rural community, but who knows, it may not be like that for ever.
“Of course there’s modern technology but a lot of the ways in which these hill farmers work on these very small farms have hardly changed at all. They’re still dealing with the changing weather and the environment just as they always have done.
“I think I have become very aware that the way that country people have lived for so long is gradually disappearing. One day it’ll be gone.”
However working from the moors is rarely comfortable. He often works on very large-scale pictures and so has to prop his work up on a rock or lay on the ground. But it’s a tricky business:
“Because they are so large you have to be careful because if you don’t hold on to the canvas, it can sail off into the distance,” he says.
“But then it’s also risky putting it down on the ground. A few times I have had dogs run over them. It’s pretty annoying to see your hard work ruined.”
If he is painting indoors he works from quick thumbnail sketches he has captured at the scene as well as photographs which he uses a form a diary to try and capture the visual memory of the experience.
“I think that’s the difference with painting outside. You are focussing so intently but you remember the temperature and the light and it adds something that you can try to convey within the picture.
“By having a sort of diary of pictures I am looking at the way the people or animals move, their expressions and their behaviour. The hounds at the hunt, for example, are in constant motion and I want to capture that authenticity.”
Andrew, 56, rarely strays far from his beloved moorland but four years ago he had the chance to be embedded with Royal Marines in Afghanistan as an official war artist. He went to Helmand on the Herrick 14 Tour, sketching everything from checkpoints and military hardware to wounded Afghan soldiers undergoing operations at Camp Bastion hospital and marines talking to the village elders.
“It was a shock for me as I’ve lived in Devon most of my life. But the marines were very organised and took great care of me. It was an extraordinary thing to do and I feel it was a huge privilege and a great opportunity for me as an artist.”
Andrew Miller’s work can be seen at the Brownston Art Gallery in Modbury.
Top Ten places on Dartmoor you may not know
1. The grave of Kitty Jay, a serving girl who died in tragic circumstances – mysteriously flowers are left almost daily on her 18th century burial mound – Hound Tor.
2. The beautiful prehistoric remains of the Merrivale Monument, spectacular at sunset – Whitchurch, near Princetown.
3. The family-run Hill House Plant Nursery and Garden with award-winning tea room- Landscove.
4. The fairytale Wistman’s Wood, a rare example of an ancient oak wood - Two Bridges.
5. Sharrah Pool on the River Dart for a wild swimming experience – near Holne.
6. Bellever Forest, a tranquil moorland spot for riding, biking or hiking around the archeological monuments – Postbridge.
7. Widecombe church, known as the “cathedral of the moors”- Widecombe-in-the-moor.
8. The American cemetery in the grounds of Dartmoor Prison where 218 US prisoners of war died following the Anglo American War of 1812 – Princetown.
9. Buckland Abbey, once home to Sir Francis Drake – Buckland Monachorum, near Yelverton.
10. Award-winning Stone Lane Gardens, home of the annual Mythic Garden Sculpture Exhibition – Chagford.