In my little tower at Montsalvat silence is a companion. Silence is also space for my thoughts, broken only by music when I choose, or those moments when I start speaking to myself when trying to work out which version is my latest draft for the projects many parts.
James Gleeson wrote of Miller in an article in 1964:
“Some of his characteristics gained him the reputation of being “difficult”. His conversation, for instance, proceeded in what seemed to be a series of tangents. Silence, like an ocean, swallowed the chain of his thoughts.
His comments often seemed disconnected and unrelated to one another because he forgot to put in the connecting links. … To follow him was to jump from island to island.
But if you got to know him, you realised that the islands were in fact , the peaks of a mountain chain that had almost been drowned in silence.”
It feels right then that Montsalvat is giving me silence to work, to and fro, on Miller’s islands. Gleeson’s metaphor is correct and in these first days here where I am reviewing so much collated data; my own notes, interview transcripts, letter transcripts, newspaper clippings, catalogue briefs and reference texts, I am swimming his ocean grasping hold of pinnacles here and there, not yet ready to commit to a final form.
I look for guidance from him, it often comes unbidden. He writes to his nieces, Valerie and Jocelyn, 30/09/44:
‘Run right through what you are going to do with a quick thought, then if you are singing, let the voice just follow or fill in the Thought, or if you are doing anything else, see it and let the action follow the seeing and infill it. … In your mind and imagination see it, hear it, think it, then let it flow out – into your singing, playing painting.’
In my silence in the afternoon I wander the lower garden here which is bordered by the cemetery and I climb up steps wet with recent rain and observe the brilliance of yellow daisies bursting into this cold, grey day. I’m thinking of my Philosopher Painter and his Warrandyte years and I close my eyes and try to see him there amongst his mystical trees. Warrandyte is not so far away after all.
Miller can be described as philosopher, painter, sculptor, drawing master and photographer. James Gleeson again: “No one else in this country has so purely an Apollonian approach. The strictness of the discipline he imposes upon himself, the feeling that half an hours thought precedes every single brushstroke, the exquisite refinement in the placing of every component, the exact balance of his form, the melodious intervals of his spacing, his constructive non-romantic colour and the sense of inevitability engendered by the whole – all these elements of the Apollonian harmony.”
Harmony, unity are the words that orbit in my thoughts as they did in his and yet as much as Miller strived toward these concepts he was troubled by the world’s materialism and capacity for destruction. His war years, his observance of politics and history between and post the World Wars, particularly Hiroshima, these things did not follow Platonic ideals. These things sent him to his desk to write to his brother and his various correspondents. The toll they took: time, artistic time, life time…