Currently I’m reading Richard Holmes work ‘Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer’. This is a gentle, deceptive gem that contains a lot more biographical tools than it at first appears. It is very easy to be seduced in the writing, travelling alongside Holmes as he traipses through France with RLS, walks the streets of Paris with Mary Wollstonecraft, exiles himself with Shelley in Italy and enters the Baudelarian decade in France through Nadar’s photography. Yet all the while he gifts you with biographical tools, through research methods, descriptions of sheer tenacity and analysis of the art of biography – the reality that you can be the best life-hunter around but you can never cross the bridge into the past of your subject.
‘I had never thought about it before. “Biography” meant a book about someone’s life. Only, for me, it was to become a kind of pursuit, a tracking of the physical trail of someone’s path through the past, a following of footsteps. You would never catch them; no, you would never quite catch them. But maybe, if you were lucky, you might write about the pursuit of that fleeting figure in such away as to bring them alive in the present’ (p.27 Richard Holmes, ‘Footsteps’)
‘– there is a growing awareness of psychological complication. This is the second factor that awakens the necessary objectivity of the biographer. My gradual discovery of Fanny Osbourne, and her hidden importance in Stevenson’s journey, made me realise how Stevenson fitted into the enormously intricate emotional web of other people’s lives. The single subject of biography is in this sense a chimera…In this way the biographer is continually excluded from, or thrown out of, the fictional rapport he has established with his subject…You cannot freeze them, you cannot pinpoint them, at any particular turn in the road, bend of the river, view from the window. They are always in motion, carrying their past lives over into the future.’ (pp 68-69, ‘Footsteps’)
In search of knowledge on Miller’s footsteps I boarded a train on the way to Bondi Junction headed for the Peter Pinson Gallery in Woollahra to meet Peter Pinson to discuss Miller, his life and work. Peter has also trawled through the Mitchell Library manuscripts to write a full chapter on Miller in ‘Australian Painting (ed) Lou Klepac’. Although he did not know Miller he was a student at the East Sydney Technical College and able to share the times, discuss the art (he remembers the Cell Block exhibitions) and provide me with further contacts. Also an interesting aspect of Miller’s character came up; that Miller was often suspicious of glowing reviews and apparently unaware of the honour bestowed upon him by the National Gallery of Victoria in 1959. Was this to do with deep seated modesty, Scottish background, an inability to accept praise or to accept that a critic could hear his language. Also a Walter Burleigh Griffith conceptual link to explore – ‘houses with stonework between faceted windows and the way crystals break up colour may be linked to Miller.’ And did Miller know de Maistre in London at the Slade? There was also the story of Miller presenting a student with his open hands containing in each an egg.
The Generosity continues to abound around the project and I hope to meet the Pinsons again. This I may do at the Artarmon Galleries Miller exhibition opening next week.
On responding to the question did Miller reach abstraction ‘...he arrived at a way of interpreting the world‘ Peter Pinson, 14/9/10