Sunday, November 01, 2015

A Very Enigmatic Man

There are many art exhibitions staged in Palma and across Mallorca. The island has a history of art, the true starting-point of which can be traced back to the artists who depicted landscapes of the island from the turn of the twentieth century and which then passed through the likes of Joan Miró to the present day. Because there is so much art of a high quality on display, for one exhibition to be described as the "great exhibition" this year is saying something.

The Council of Mallorca's director of culture, Rafael Creus, is the one who has referred to this great exhibition. The use of "great" is a literal translation. What he's really saying is that it is the outstanding exhibition of the year at Palma's La Misericòrdia, and the painter who is the subject of this exhibition is the highly enigmatic figure of the American, Ritch Miller.

Born in Texas in 1925, Miller arrived in Mallorca at the start of the 1960s and never left. He died in 1991 at his home in Santa María del Camí. Miller was an enigma. He was one of the purest examples of the word. Few people knew him, or knew him well, and of those who did he was largely impenetrable: a man of perplexing mystery.

An obituary to him in "El País" in 1991 gave an impression of this man. "Alone in his world, filled with absence and silence, he was attentive to the hidden voices of nature and the echoes he had left in the past. The solitariness and anguish of this man were translated to the figures (of his paintings), contorted with horror and the hopelessness of amnesia. He didn't live an isolated life, but he was tremendously lonely."

Why did Miller come to Mallorca? Why did he leave America? These were just two questions in the puzzle that made up this very enigmatic man. He was, it would seem, intending to go to Greece when he stumbled across Mallorca, and once here, his painting was unlike most artists who sought inspiration from the island. He wasn't especially interested in doing landscapes. He was principally interested in torment. His own. Yet of those who did get to know him, the recollection was of a pleasant and kindly person who, nevertheless, was happier talking to his cats and dogs. In 1991, he hanged himself.

Miller suggested that his personality had something to do with his background and his Indian blood. His grandfather was the chief of the Sioux. He also had Kiowa blood in his veins. Why this would lead him to abandon the land of his forefathers and - what little that was known of his past - a job as a television presenter was never really known. Of his acquaintances, one of the strongest was with Eliane Koeves. She lived in Santa Margalida before moving back to the States, but this was an acquaintance primarily through correspondence, as were other acquaintances to whom he wrote letters full of feeling and nuance.

He preferred, apart from his pets, to communicate through his art. He said that "painting is my only possible language, as I do not know another way to communicate with humans". There were, though, the letters to Eliane, and they were to be key to a documentary that was made about Miller three years ago. There is a significant interest in him in Mallorca, partly because he was such a seemingly strange character but also because his art was unlike that of others. When he first exhibited on the island, his work was received with something approaching horror, but it was to subsequently get rave reviews, as critics appreciated that he was opening up new and different visions for art.

Gudi Moragues, who is the curator of the exhibition, entitled "Ritch Miller, Sempre (always or forever)", says of someone now considered to be one of the twentieth century's most significant painters that his work was characterised by "transgression, lyricism, magic, dangerous places and satire". The exhibition runs in the chapel of La Misericòrdia until 30 December.

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