My most recent interview was with Leonora Howlett, an artist and ex-student of Miller, who was in her final years at NAS 1959-60. At the risk of repeating myself these invitations into the homes and minds of artists who have been taught by Miller continues to offer me more than I think the artists themselves realise. The interviews flow from some basic memory ticklers and open out into a complex map of creative history. There are always fresh anecdotes, descriptions of place, time and people that when layered with my existing interview material organically produces a mind-form which is slowly building into the architecture that will eventually be the biography. ‘Form is a strange thing. The more you work at it the less it belongs to the visible: then it is Idea…’ ‘…a thought form’ GM MSS 1005 Mitchell Library
The layering process begins with the basic memory ticklers: first meeting with Miller, response, appearance, voice, classes, relationships, words given, influences, NAS grounds, visits, paintings, exhibitions, anecdotes, interests (theosophy, anthroposophy, Jung, music, books, the outback) war service knowledge and other contacts. It is extended through the artists referring to other artists, artistic movements, books, catalogues and new contacts for me to interview. This layering forms a 3 dimensional grid something like what Will Gibson describes in Neuromancer and I find myself working within a matrix structure of data and memory. This parallels nicely for me with Miller’s work and his idea of the lattice…. ‘Lattice is the word of my own. When you have solid things you have no unity, when you draw them out to their parts (Plato would say their divine parts) you leap from a solidness to an openness, a web or lattice…it is the belief in (the wafts) that draws the lines into the centre of the diagram’ ML MSS 2719 Mitchell Library also p. 64 D Edwards.
After speaking with Leonora I was invited upstairs to her elevated studio and sat at her table reading ‘The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890-1985 ’ a catalogue from the LA County Museum of Art. This book came up early in our conversation when Leonora asked me what books had been written about Australian artists and Theosophy. Outside Dr Jill Rowe’s work, ‘Beyond belief: theosophy in Australia 1879-1939’, in which Miller is mentioned, and some essays I have read from the Australian Theosophical Society, I remain unaware of a book that examines specifically the Australian Artist and Theosophy – I may well be wrong or maybe there is further work to be done. Looking up from my reading and audio note taking, as new names leapt out from the pages, I felt myself in an elevated space with the thick, solid trunk of a eucalypt outside the window.
It seemed to me that this elevation from the earth was ideal for the creative quest – somehow a lighter plane existed for pure thought far away from the pull of earthly concerns. It was a space for colour, ideas and the revealing of divine parts.
I walked off to the bus, away from the elevated studio, thinking of the anecdote of Miller cutting a rectangular hole in some fibro sheeting so that he could see the stars from his bed.