Apryl Miller is a fantastic artist who lives in New York City. Her work is awash in color, but color is not a crutch for her. For Apryl, color is about full expression and freedom. One look at her website www.aprylmiller.com explains it all. We had a fantastic chat about her work, life and the purpose of art. You’ll definitely enjoy …
“… People always talk about trying to think beyond the box, or climb out of the box or what have you, but for my money, there simply is no box. In a way, it's a declaration of freedom …”
MICHAEL: Hello Apryl. Okay ... when I first saw your site, I thought, "Now she looks like fun!" Obviously, you're a very serious artist, but I get a great sense of playfulness and fun in your work. Joy. Am I right?
APRYL: Hi Michael. You are absolutely right. My art looks fun, it is fun. I'm fun, too, but my work is serious and I am also a serious person. It is common for people to see the use of color as lightweight and without merit, but I employ bright colors in an unusual way. I express both the light and the dark in my work and these opposites are both rendered in bold, bright, joyous colors. I had an arts writer tell me last year she had never seen anyone do that before. It's common practice to express the dark with the dark and the light with bright colors, but not me. Yellow is used a lot in my work; it is an essential color to me. It is the color of hope and without it, we cannot live. The absence of hope is death.
I think also, being a mother, it has been important to me to instill optimism in my children and to show them, to teach them, that they can indeed go on, when sometimes it may appear that they cannot. The bright colors are about that and they reveal a blending of loss and hope; the knowledge that there is joy in the sorrow. If there is yellow there is light. If there is light, there is sun. If there is sun, there is hope. My work is a joyous celebration of all life has to offer us, all of it, leaving nothing out.
MICHAEL: Most people associate bright, primary colors with children. How is your sense of color relevant for adults?
APRYL: Michael, I know you speak the truth. As I had referenced earlier, people see the use of color as lacking gravitas, as you are saying, it is related to children. I am not a fan of primary colors and I employ very little blue and red in my work. I stick to what I think of as brighter colors and will often use pearlized paints over a matte base. My color use, though instinctual, follows a certain pattern and the end result is a sophisticated blend. My secret to good color use is to put as many colors together as I possibly can, with the exception of colors I feel are too dark. I juxtapose and work backwards, putting together that which least belongs side by side. In the end, a peace arises from the cacophony of its origins.
People who work with children's "colors", from my point of view, use limited palettes, and as you have said, primary colors. The result is work or environments that look alike. It’s limiting the colors that is a mistake. In the permanent installation that is my home, I have more than 150 paint colors on the walls alone. That does not include the colors of the objects I have placed in the environment. The result is a wonderful balance of energy and peace, in a sophisticated environment for a family. It is a space that invites the unusual conversation and inspires creative thought.
My formula: Do not use primary colors, do not restrict the palette and make all the color combinations jarring and wrong.
MICHAEL: You know, I used to think that certain color combinations didn't work, but I realized that don't all colors work together? I mean, would they exist otherwise? Mark Rothko and other artists used all sorts of odd combos.
APRYL: Michael, funny you should say that, being the colorist that I am, I do see combos that I find jarring, no question! It's all in the eye of the beholder and to my eye, it's all about color expansion. The more colors, the more pleasing the experience, because, as you have said, all colors work together.
Michael, I want to take a moment to thank you for this interview. You do a great thing for artists. I am so excited to dive into your questions, that I did not thank you! Thank you for giving me a platform to express my views and thank you for all the other artists for whom you have done the same.
MICHAEL: Thanks for that Apryl. Sometimes I wonder whether or not I’m wasting my time, but your graciousness will keep me going for a while! LOL. Your motto/branding appears to be "There Is No Box." What does this mean to you?
APRYL: I was talking with someone, long forgotten, and he looked and me and said, "Apryl, with you there is no box." People always talk about trying to think beyond the box, or climb out of the box or what have you, but for my money, there simply is no box. In a way, it's a declaration of freedom, because it means the west is wild and open and there is no need to even consider the box to be crawled out of. One merely exists and makes stuff.
MICHAEL: It looks like you also create functional art. Tables, chairs, etc. Is this art or design?
APRYL: Much like Meret Oppenheim, with her fur tea cup set, I like to take functional objects and render their function obsolete. Most of what you are referring to as “Functional Art” is actually what I call sculpture masquerading as furniture. I like to keep my objects in what I call a “Teeter.” Is it art? Is it design? It is my intention to place them in a middle ground where they don't actually belong on either side, but teeter on their own, in their own atmosphere. Originally, I thought of myself as a furniture designer, but the more pieces I made and the more elaborate the concepts and visuals, I realized they transcended furniture. My intention was to imbue emotion into the common household objects we place in our homes, chairs, couches, tables, cabinets, etc. I tell stories with these pieces and the concepts involved, render these objects metaphors for life. So to answer your question, are they art or design? The answer is, they are both and they are neither.
MICHAEL: Given that, aren't artists asking a lot of people when it comes to art? In this world of tight monetary resources and high practicality, what's the point of art?
APRYL: Now we're getting down to the nitty-gritty of the brass tacks, Michael. The world needs art. The world has always needed art. Some art asks a lot of people and other art does not. In tough economic times, we need art more than ever. Art stimulates our imagination and can take us to places of peace and excitement. It can bring us to joyful emotions, it can help us to go on when we have reached a point where we thought we could not. My work is deeply tied to inspiration, acceptance and learning how to live with the imperfections of life. My messages are always the same, that there is hope, that we will prevail, even if only in a small way, that life is worth living, no matter your circumstances. I have a series of boxes I did called "Boxes For Hope." It is usual for a text to accompany my visual work and these boxes are no exception. Here is their text:
We need as much as we can get
We can never give up any
Yes we can never give enough away
Art is a necessary part of any community and in a culture where it has been repressed, artists still find a way to make it and viewers still find a way to see it. I cannot emphasize this enough, the point of and the importance of art, at any time in our history, in our country and in our world.
MICHAEL: If art is that important, then why are we among only a few in the world who know that? I mean, nobody questions the importance of air, water and food!
APRYL: OK, I've been pondering and chewing over this last question. I guess I should dive in and try to answer it. I believe European countries have more reverence for art than do Americans. Because we are a new country, we are bold and brash and think we know it all. We view it as superfluous. These are the visual arts I am referring to, not music, theater, dance, etc. so much. I think the visual arts are pretty low on the totem pole in our culture and there is this mistaken idea that one must be learned to derive any meaning or enjoyment out of viewing art. I am a self-taught artist, for the most part, and I work in an intuitive and visceral manner. I believe art is for the masses and it is not a matter of what one knows or does not know, but it is a matter of what you like or don't like; a matter of what is interesting, or what is boring. That pretty much brings art viewing down to the lowest common denominator, but I don't see why not! There should be nothing pretentious or snobby about art, in particular the visual arts. If it is exclusionary and pretentious, how can people know and see and feel its importance?
MICHAEL: Hello! That’s what I’m talking about. Do you come from an artistic family? When did you first become aware of yourself as an artist?
APRYL: People in my family are musical and they also possess a talent for writing. My parents brought us up with books, a love of language and word play. I can still remember my father reading classics to us when we were kids. My family always had an originality about us, a way of thinking and perceiving the world that was unusual. As a child, I was steeped in our families' do-it-yourself tenets, that of making something your own, by making it yourself. Both parts were given equal weight. We always made our own Christmas ornaments and holiday cards, to give one example. Having said that, I feel the need to clarify, we were not an artistic family, we were a creative family. Though we did endless art projects, we were not particularly talented visually, if that makes sense. It was also a part of the culture. My father was a minister and I can remember even as a small child helping the women's group to make items to sell at our annual Christmas Fair.
There was always the feeling about myself as having a creative bent, no question. My father had a poetic gift and I've written poetry for many years. That came to me decades before the visual art arrived.
I liked art classes in grade school, but thereafter, no. When faced with a blank piece of paper, unless it was a specific project or assignment, I would freeze and my mind would empty. I had no idea what sort of marks to make on the paper. I attended fashion design school and when I was in figure drawing classes, I used to break into a sweat. I simply couldn't see the nuance of what I was supposed to be drawing. Design school was all about being tight and I am an abstract, curvilinear, loopy artist. I couldn't learn to render images of what I was looking at. I can only render shapes that come from my crowded mind.
Having said all of that, I suspected I might be an artist when I was in my early 40's. I began to whisper to myself that I was an artist and as time went on, that whisper turned into a normal speaking voice.
MICHAEL: Interesting. Do you think there's a connection at all between your father being a minister and you being an artist?
APRYL: There’s a connection of some sort, but I can't put together where the visual talent sprang from. No one else in my family has that, and I come from a family of seven kids. I think what I do have from the preacher part is the drive to connect and communicate with others, to share my messages with people. That is clear to me. Religious backgrounds often come with the aspect of service to others and I do have that. I feel I was put here to do certain things and I need to make sure I do them. There’s no doubt in my mind about that. I know the meaning behind my art and I know the concepts and where they sprang from. It is not that I am a better person than others or that I know more, but people are profoundly moved by my work, I have seen it often expressed. I've seen people moved to both tears and laughter, through experiencing my work. I feel it is a calling of a sort, but I do not say that art is my religion. Art is not a religion. Only religion is a religion, though one may feel it is religious-like. I must speak, I must express and I must share, but only if my work has meaning for others, besides myself. It is a reciprocal experience.
MICHAEL: Finally Apryl, What are your hopes for the future?
APRYL: That’s a big question, Michael. How far into the future are we going? You did ask the future, not my future. I guess, hope does not have to have a basis in reality. Hopes are dreams, wishes and desires. The first thing that comes to mind is that we can live in a less violent world. The unrest and extreme violence scattered across the globe disturbs me greatly, as does intolerance for others' religions and indeed, for religion in particular. I used to be part of a majority as a churchgoer and now if I even say in public that I am religious, I am looked at askance.
MICHAEL: Yes indeed.
APRYL: That's a problem, for me and for our world. I hope we could understand how to eliminate poverty and get a better grip on how to better preserve our natural resources. Those seem like generic hopes to me, though I know many people never give these concerns much thought. For myself, I hope I can continue to make meaningful, expressive work and, I feel I'm skimming the surface here. Let me try to dig deeper. My art has always been a reflection of who I am or who I am at that time. When I first began to make art, I could not bring myself to sign it, later, I could affix a signature, but it was only my first name. It took me a while to grasp the full implications of that, a woman who could not claim her name. As I have grown as a person, I have grown as an artist, alongside myself. It is this that I hope for; that I will continue to develop fully as a person and that my art will reflect that. If I can continue to challenge who I am, struggling with my imperfections and inadequacies, then I will feel I am doing what I came here to do, and then I can share myself with others.
MICHAEL: Apryl, you are a woman and an artist of substance. I have greatly enjoyed our chat. Much future success to you.
APRYL: Thank you so much, Michael, for giving me the opportunity to talk about what I do and for asking thought-provoking questions. I appreciate it. Thank you.
Check out Apryl at www.aprylmiller.com.