By David Terraso
If you’ve ever walked along Oakdale and spotted the sign that references George Orwell’s 1984 declaring “We have always been at war with Oceania” then you’ve seen some of the political art that Stephanie Miller uses to speak her mind. Miller has lived in New York, and many other places and has been a vibrant fixture of Candler Park since 1978. She hung a shingle in Little Five Points as a chiropractor, retiring just a few years ago. She’s now 70 and devotes herself to her art and her dogs full time (she has greyhound rescues).
SM: I’ve always done artwork. I was compelled to to be honest. Some would say it was an addiction. Doing more of it just makes me happy. I stayed in chiropractic practice for 35 years. I tried to do the thing where you see some people and then you do art, but it’s hard to do,because the focus of artwork is finding yourself in infinity and that gets dissolved by appointments and other things. Eventually I quit taking new patients and I still was frustrated. The first day I said “No more patients, I’ll refer everybody,” It was like a new life. I loved what I did, but I really enjoy being retired.
I’m still at that point where I want to heal the world. I want to help. I’m an ex-peace corps volunteer. I want to serve.
DT: Tell me about your practice.
SM: It was a lot of fun. A friend of mine, Virginia Soules, a medical doctor, opened up on the same hall. We were very funky and very professional at the same time. It was great. The neighborhood was fabulous. It still is fabulous.
I would see young people looking for something new, I would see older people happy that I was there in the neighborhood. There was a diversity of people. I saw cops, I saw lawyers. There were lesbians and gay men. There were older couples who had been here for a long, long, long time. In fact, one of the original older neighborhood people became my secretary, which was very nice. She’s gone now.
DT: Tell me about your art.
SM: I’ve always done a lot of art. I don’t think I’m really verbal. I learned to be verbal. I think it is my second language. My first language is a visual acceptance, recognition and interplay with the world. So it was logical to play and communicate by drawing, or coloring or anything like that. It was very pleasurable too.
It used to be I would sort of entice a concept and the concept would then tell me how to present it.
Because I was socially minded, it would usually be around whatever issue was going on right then, what do I see that I wanted people to be aware of or think about. And then I would try to express it, usually by humor, there’s almost always humor in my work.
DT: How do you get inspired?
SM: Depending on the picture, sometimes it’s just colors that I want to work with. I am one of those people who will throw paint on a canvas to start, even if the end result is hyperrealistic, it is a way to approach a blank one. It doesn’t necessarily tell me what I will do there, but it’s like a broken wall and then I can play.
If I get to the point where I’m starting a canvas or a sculpture, even if it’s political, when I feel like I’m at perfect play, then I’m utilizing all of my resources.
Let me drag you to a picture. This is the mermaid lobby- “The Mermaid lobby was unable to halt the military-industrial complex” We have wasted military products in the ocean deep where now the mermaids have to wear EPA suits. Here’s one where she’s been mutated by a broken nuclear waste disposal.
This is Soho at her coming out party (her greyhound in a dress).
DT: Do you see viewing art as a participatory activity?
SM: It has to be. It must be. It’s communication. If someone is being communicated to, they are defining it. I wish it were a discussion, but it rarely happens. At shows people are drinking wine and they’re walking around. The discussion that occurs at an art show is already predicated on the fact that somebody has picked this art to go in the art show. So people are accepting that it’s worthy of discussion. I’d like somebody to get up and say to the artist, “It didn’t communicate to me.” People don’t do that after a glass of wine and some peanuts and it’s already at the art show and it already has a price tag. You don’t get communication. It’s party and they’ve come for that reason.
When people come here a lot of them are my friends. Some of them will have discussion and I cherish the ones who do. I say please tell me if you do like it, please tell me if you don’t like it. Tell me what you like about it. Tell me, tell me, tell me. I cherish the few and far between who are really
speaking from the heart. Who really think I’m being serious about that.
DT: Tell me about these pictures.
SM: Uncle Roo Roo, he is a very loving person. And this one says “Uncle Roo Roo Receives the Holy Cauliflower,” He just plays harmlessly and joyfully. Here’s Uncle Roo Roo fishing. He doesn’t really catch them, he just lets them flow through his habit. He’s sort of a European monkish plus Asian concept. Here’s The Butterflies Mistake Uncle Roo Roo for a Flower.
Most of the way I earned money doing art was doing pet portraits. I did very realistic ones and I try to really capture who they are. This is two
I’m also really connected to greyhound rescue and here are two rescues who were not at the track, they were table dancers in Las Vegas.
I take in what I call infinite concepts and ideas. Each time I touch something there’s a billion ways to express it and I have to make a decision, so I have to clear everything around me because it’s chaos in my head. Total chaos.
SM: When I finally retired, I started taking bagpipe lessons. And I love it, love it. For about four years I’d say I practiced one to three hours everyday.
I broke off from my teacher because I really wanted to play early music on the bagpipe and not just Scottish. I enjoy music from around 1100-1300 or 1400, secular or religious.
I sometimes play out at Freedom Park. I have outfits I wear sometimes, like striped pants or silly little plaid hat, or things like that.
DT: Is it important for people to practice art as well as view it?
SM: Do I think people should do art? Yeah, if you think it will make you happy. And if you don’t know if it will make you happy then try it. Don’t expect your first time to meet what’s in your head. Your expectations are going to be modified by the fact that you’re a tool and you haven’t learned how to use yourself properly.
I think people can ride a motorcycle and do art and get enlightenment. And they can do art and get enlightenment. And they can pet dogs and do dog rescue and be doing art and get enlightenment. I really don’t know how to answer that one.
DT: I think you just did. On another note, do you find that the older you get, the less you are sure of?
SM: Absolutely, In fact, I get surer and surer that I’m not sure of things. You can’t integrate all of this except to say, “It is.”
SM: I love this neighborhood. I just have to say that. I feel like an urban peasant.
I used to travel a lot. And I’d see people who lived where I’d travel and there was this little angst in me that I was aware that many don’t need to roam around the world. Many are happy where they are.
I’m just hanging here in Candler Park and people can travel here now. And I think I’ve become one of those people who I used to look at. I’m really excited that I’ve hit this other side of that vision, of that duality, that I wake up in the morning and I have stuff to do on my little ranch. And I walk the dogs in the village. And I come home. And I live here. It’s very nice to have a place where I feel like I can live. It’s not a matter of renting or owning or anything. It’s a world perspective I never had until I got older. I think I could’ve had it younger, but I was too neurotic.