John Miles - A Biography
JOHN F B MILES (1944-97)
John Francis Beverley Miles was born in Cardiff, South Wales, in September 1944. His father, Arthur Miles, was a successful illustrator and painter, an intellectual pragmatist with strong socialist convictions. His mother, Enid, had been a Carmelite nun for many years, and she was a visionary with intense spiritual yearnings and a great capacity for altruistic love, which found its earthly focus in John, whom she adored and breast-fed for far too long.
This unlikely parental combination clearly defined John's genetic personality. From an early age he was confident and self-assured, nurtured in his mother's love and his father's radical individuality. The world was a joyous cosmology, ripe for discovery and artistic exploration. In his youth he wrote: "The least that I am going to attain is the Sun." He had no doubts about his own artistic genius.
The need to win created its own dynamic. He was a master of games, quizzes and puzzles, an accomplished etymologist and horticulturalist who knew the Latin names of countless different species. He was a versatile sportsman, a great entertainer and wit, a lover of nature, beauty and form, a seducer of many women. To all who ever knew or met him, he was definitely much larger than life. He took great delight in the nickname of 'Rasputin' that his doctor bestowed on him: with his Herculean body, freckled skin, red beard, demonic laugh, and his long gracefully curving tobacco pipe that echoed the calligraphy of his brushstrokes and handwriting, he was truly a striking and unforgettable figure. Egotistical, dominant, fearless, outrageous, he was never afraid to speak his mind. At football matches his jokes and comments always rose above the roar of the crowds. His humorous quips were razor-sharp like Oscar Wilde's, while his bellowing laughter was like that of Satan himself. John self-identified with a prediction by Van Gogh, that: 'the artist of the future will be a colourist such as the world has never known.' He perceived himself to be a genius through and through, and for much of his waking life he sincerely believed it.
Yet behind all the masculine bravado of his outlandish personality was a sensitive and caring soul, prone to emotional and sensual failings. Glimpses into 'The Life Force', which underpinned his artistic and sensory perception, revealed an infinite presence of unconditional love, the light of which casts into shadow any vestige of self-assertion. Like all artists of the soul's code, of life itself, John had to grapple with this spiritual dilemma, of the dualism between the notion of a self and its total absence.
When he was seven years old his mother took him to St Agnes in Cornwall, where he attended school in Redruth. His formal art training took place at Newport and Cardiff Art Colleges. From 1968-72 he taught art at a suburban London Grammar School, and from 1972-90 worked as a tutor in Torquay College of Art in Devon. A physical assault by another tutor in his last years at this College led to ill health and an early retirement, so he returned to Cardiff in 1994 to pursue his vision as a creative artist with enormous potential. Time, circumstance and a pension had seemingly brought about the conditions where he could paint in peace and without encumbrance. His two children, Cressida and Jason, had left home, and now it seemed there was nothing between himself and the canvas, which he had recently ordered in fifty-meter rolls. But life often has other plans than the ones we make, and ill health continually encroached on the last few years of his short but vibrantly creative life. He died in his sleep on April 15th 1997 from heart failure at the age of fifty-three, his last unfinished painting was symbolically of a setting sun.
The selection of paintings shown here represent but a small part of John's total output: as a naturally gifted draughtsman with great technical versatility he wielded the brush with dexterity, speed and confidence. Figuratively he was able to draw from life without any apparent struggle to render the form of what he saw. Nature Herself was his real teacher, and the sublimity of form displayed in nature, such as leaf and stem structures, tidal patterns, seashells, galaxies, waves, water, and the naked human form were the primal sources from which he drew. In his youth he was greatly influenced by a book entitled 'Sensitive Chaos', written by a student of Rudolf Steiner, which explored the natural forms that permeate both the microcosm and macrocosm. This natural sublimity is revealed in the amorphous molecular and cellular forms that spatially constellate John's compositions, with all the refined grace of the finest Islamic calligraphy. He once astonished a visiting Japanese Zen Master by spontaneous replicating his highly formulated brushstrokes with rapier-like precision.
Of particular impact are John's intricate circular Mandala paintings, which represent the apex of his visionary skill, devotion and patience. Some of these large canvases took several years to complete, and he would repeatedly return to them after periodic forays into smaller works, or disastrous romantic adventures. 'Synaesthesia', meaning the 'crossing of the senses', was a word John always prefixed to these compositions, which in many ways evokes their titles better than any other, for essentially they are a sumptuous, sensual spatial interplay of form, colour and line. These paintings were executed on raw unprimed Irish linen canvas, with an amorphous nebula of sprayed synthetic dye forming the dark surface on which a multitude of 'passages' could play in acrylic, gouache and oil colours. The spatial relationships of these passages resulted in the illusion of deep visual perspectives and tonal harmonies, which are as structured in their chaotic sensitivity as the scored musical notation of any great classical composition. His was a unique artistic vocabulary, a highly intelligent visual language of grace notes and poetic lines.
A question that often arises to the viewer is: "Does the artist actually see things like this?" Perhaps the most direct answer is purely metaphysical, that all is conceptual, that all which arises 'just comes into existence'. No distinction here is made between an outer and an inner vision. The concepts for all the imaginative and abstract forms in John's paintings were all precisely formulated in his inner vision, yet paradoxically their rendering through brush and pigment was also an act of complete improvisation. Herein lies the divinity of all 'artistic creation', the transmission from the imagined reality of inner vision to its concrete representation as a 'work of art'. John would sometimes joke that his imagery was influenced more by 'Desperate Dan' meat pies than by any New Age philosophy. Yet by nature he was a deeply spiritual man, with much concern about environmental issues, our natural and architectural heritage, the outsider, the rebel, and the oppressed. This spirituality arose as a natural wisdom, and not from any contrived religious, political or ideological dogma. Like Blake, common sense made him poignantly aware that each little flower is a product of ages, and that eternity is in love with the products of time. Or as Picasso once replied to some art critics who were discussing the development of his work: "I do not evolve. I am!"
Here then is the work of John Miles for our appreciation, but whatever one may think, he was more than that.