Peter Miller’s landscapes, bales and rivers bring a slice of Yorkshire to Partisan café

The White Horse From Fields Near Kilburn, Summer 2020, oil painting by Peter Miller

FOR 40 years, Peter Miller ran Ken Spelman’s Bookshop, on Micklegate, in York.

Now, he is completing a hattrick of exhibitions since the bookseller’s closing chapter, retirement in 2012, on the same side of the cobbled street, at Partisan, Florencia Clifford and Hugo Hildyard’s vibrant artisan café on the same side of the cobbled street.

Filling the café’s upstairs walls with God’s Own Country colour, Peter is exhibiting From Kilburn To Hawnby, his series of landscape oil paintings of North Yorkshire, until November 30.

“This is the third show I’ve had in the last few years, after Ken Spelman’s Bookshop in 2014 and Scampston Hall, near Malton, in 2015,” he says. “As with the first two, the paintings explore landscape, in this case North Yorkshire.

At easel: Peter Miller at work on an oil painting in his studio. Note the angle of his chair

“The first one featured Eskdale to Scarborough; the second one, for Scampston Hall, focused on the Wolds, and what you notice is that Yorkshire is such a big county with these completely different landscapes.

“The pictures are representational and are painted in a modest spirit of connection with place, but as with all painting, colour, tone and composition increasingly have become the real subject of the pictures.”

Miller’s tale behind his latest show begins on the Wolds. “I was approached by Florencia and Hugo to do an exhibition because they’d been out to a mutual friend, Una McCluskey’s house, beyond Kilnwick Percy, with its fantastic view of the Vale of York,” he recalls.

“Some years ago, I did a picture of that view for Una for her kitchen, and when Florencia and Hugo saw it, they said, ‘gosh, who did that?’. I’d known them for a long time, and in fact they approached me before the pandemic, saying they’d love to host an exhibition of my work…but of course it then got put back.”

Boltby Scar, Summer 2020, by Peter Miller

Peter is an enthusiastic walker, blessed with a painter’s appreciation of landscape. “I’d done a lot of walks between Hawnby and Kilburn before the first lockdown, getting out and about, and then, in between lockdowns, I was able to refresh my memory of certain landscape scenes,” he says.

“I then did the paintings in my studio based on studies and photographs: Kilburn to Hawnby is an area I know well because I go up to Shandy Hall in Coxwold, where I’m involved with the Laurence Sterne Trust, and I enjoyed doing the studies in different seasons, such as studies of the White Horse in spring, summer and autumn.

“Put together, the pictures form a tangible evocation of time spent in the wonderfully varied Yorkshire landscape.”

Peter’s love of walking takes him to the Wolds most weeks, packing up a sandwich and stretching the legs over eight to ten miles. “It’s very seldom that we experience weather bad enough to make us abandon the walk; the Yorkshire weather is often better than people imagine, and walking over the landscape is very sustaining,” he says.

Hay Bales II, near Felixkirk, Autumn 2020, by Peter Miller

With that in mind, you might expect Peter to be a plein-air painter, but not so. “There are very strong arguments for plein-air painting, but I prefer to carry the scene in my mind’s eye, have it there and then re-create it, re-living the moment of being there, because it’s not just a picture of being there in the open air: it has veracity in paint and tone, and I find that being at one remove suits me better.

“Whereas with plein-air painting, the light is changing all the time and I would find that very distracting.”

Peter uses watercolours and acrylics for sketching but favours oils for his paintings. “I’ve never really mastered the watercolour technique, which is very difficult,” he says. “I find oil to be the most sympathetic medium because you can move it around on the surface; you can point over it, you can mix in, blend in, the oils, whereas with acrylics, the surface is dry within half an hour.

“I love how, with oils, you can paint in the sky and two days later you can feather it around and change it a bit. That freedom is not something I would want to give up. It’s such a satisfactory feeling working with oils, and then when it’s finished, you apply the varnish that gives it an intensity that rather flatters it.”

In the mix: Peter Miller mid-painting in oils

Born in 1947, Peter grew up in Chiswick. “But when I was a boy, I lived with my grandparents for three years in Blackpool; my grandfather was a commercial artist there but loved the countryside and I used to go on sketching trips with him,” he says.

“I learned the basics of paintings from this lovely old man, and that was my starting point. In fact I did think of going to art school, but I felt it would be limiting my options too much, so instead I studied history as a degree.”

Peter’s grandfather, meanwhile, has his own place in Blackpool’s history. “At the age of 75, he was called out of retirement to repaint the 4,000 square feet of the Tower Ballroom ceiling after the fire of 1955,” he says.

“He had to re-create The Carnival of Venice series of murals, going up 120 ft of scaffolding to start each day’s painting in his mid-70s, with only one helper to mix the colours. The mural now has a preservation order on it.

Hay Bales and Field, near Felixkirk, Autumn 2020

“He was also invited to paint a scene that could be seen behind famous Tower Ballroom organist Reg Dixon as he emerged from below, choosing to paint Isle Of Capri, in honour of Gracie Fields, who sang that sing.”

Peter first came to York in 1965, initially as an undergraduate at the then-new University of York, but like many since, he ended up staying, running Spelman’s, latterly in partnership with Tony Fothergill, until the canvas and cloth called.

“In that time, I’ve always had close links with the Friends of York Art Gallery, helped to set up a modern art gallery in Grape Lane and held regular art exhibitions at the bookshop from the late 1970s,” says Peter.

One such artistic association has come in handy for the latest exhibition. “Many of the frames were given to me by my artist friend John Langton, who’s now in his late-80s and no longer paints,” reveals Peter. “I availed myself of them and then did the paintings to fit the frames! It ended up being the cheapest exhibition I’ve ever done!”

Peter Miller: From Kilburn To Hawnby, Landscape Paintings of North Yorkshire, on show at Partisan, Micklegate, York, until November 30. Opening hours: Monday to Friday, 9am to 3pm; Saturday and Sunday, 9am to 4pm.

The River Rye at Hawnby, Early Autumn 2020, by Peter Miller

Lotte Inch Gallery launches pop-up projects with Matthew Miller’s Cloth & Colour quilt installation in York Theatre Royal foyer

Still Life, quilt, by Matthew Miller

YORK artist Matthew Miller will launch his quilt exhibition, Cloth & Colour, at an 11.30am to 1.30pm preview on Saturday at York Theatre Royal.

This inaugural Pop-Up Project mounted by Lotte Inch Gallery will run at the St Leonard’s Place theatre until Tuesday, November 30.

“In the first of our ‘Beyond The Gallery Walls’projects, Lotte Inch Gallery is delighted to be working with the extremely talented, multi-media artist Matthew Miller to bring an impressive and colourful installation to the Theatre Royal foyer this November,” says Lotte.

Multi-media artist Matthew Miller

“Matthew is based in London but hails from York and I’m thrilled that he’s returning to his roots for  this milestone gallery project.” 

After an uncertain and stop-start 2020 under the Covid cloud, gallery owner Lotte took the difficult decision to close her Bootham premises in June this summer. “However, in my commitment to the city’s art scene, I always intended to keep working on creative projects and I’m excited to be curating this pop-up exhibition at the Theatre Royal.” 

Matthew Miller’s new installation is a series of textile pieces inspired by the work of the quilters of Gee’s Bend, Alabama. “Using only waste material from their worn-out garments and sheets, the women of Gee’s Bend made vibrant and raw quilts that rival any Colourists of the 20th century,” says Lotte.

Golden Bird, quilt, by Matthew Miller

“Matthew’s interest in these beautifully crafted textiles drew him to collaborate with his mother, Liza, on his first quilt in 2016 before developing his own process to produce the pieces exhibited in this show.”

Interested in the ecological use of fabric in quilting, Matthew has used end-of-roll and pre-worn fabrics in all of his quilts. “Leaning into the aesthetic of his paintings, he extends his exploration of bright, bold colours and clear form to create a series of vibrant collages in cloth,” says Lotte.

“He has found in quilts a tactile medium that can work just as easily on a table or bed as on a wall. This practical use gives the works an emotional element, allowing people to feel them and touch them as well as just admire them.” 

Leaves Runner and Moon Runner, quilts, by Matthew Miller

Matthew’s background in book arts and design, as a graduate from London College of Communication, has seen him host shows in varying media, both in London and his home city of York.

Previously, his medium of choice has been painting. Cloth & Colour will be his first exhibition of quilts, coinciding happily but by chance – in a like father, like son story – with pater Peter Miller’s exhibition of North Yorkshire oil paintings at the Partisan café/restaurant on Micklegate. Miller senior’s From Kilburn To Hawnby landscapes oil paintings share the same closing date, November 30; like father, like son, again.

Matthew Miller’s Cloth & Colour, York Theatre Royal foyer, November 13 to 30, during theatre opening hours; Monday, 1pm to 5pm; Tuesday to Saturday, 9am to 10pm; Sunday, closed. 

York artist Lesley Birch responds to the Forces Of Nature in Glyndebourne show

York artist Lesley Birch at work in her studio

YORK artist Lesley Birch will exhibit at Glyndebourne, the Sussex opera house home to the Glyndebourne Festival, from May to December.

“I’m very proud to have been invited,” she says. “It’s a huge privilege and rather daunting too. I’m working on pieces now.”

Lesley has been chosen for the Forces Of Nature exhibition of paintings, prints and ceramics in Gallery 94, located by the stalls entrance to the auditorium at the country house in Lewes, East Sussex.

Curated by Nerissa Taysom, the exhibition was inspired by the strong women on stage in this year’s upcoming six festival operas, so all ten artists will be women. 

Exhibiting alongside Lesley will be Michele Fletcher, Tanya Gomez, Rachel Gracey, Kathryn Johnson, Rosie Lascelles, Kathryn Maple, Tania Rutland, Katie Sollohub and Hannah Tounsend.

The Old Town, by Lesley Birch, part of her Marks & Moments exhibition at Partisan, York

Forces Of Nature will explore how artists represent their feelings or memories of natural phenomena, its forms and sounds, while questioning how we confront nature in an age of climate change.

Lesley works out of PICA Studios, the artist collective in Grape Lane, York, and in this typically busy year, her new Marks & Moments paintings can be savoured at Partisan, the boho restaurant, café and arts space in Micklegate, York, in a feast of colour and imagination until March 31.

Filling two floors, more than 50 paintings are on view, ranging from Lesley’s Musical Abstract Collection – large canvases expressing music and movement in nature – to little gouache gems created en plein air in the remote village of Farindola in Abruzzo, Italy.

“Partisan is a sort of emporium full of collectable stuff, such as vintage lamps and the like, and it’s so exciting to see my paintings in this bohemian setting, reflected off the old French mirrors and hung high and low,” says Lesley, whose works are divided into colour and spring moods upstairs and dramatic landscapes downstairs. All paintings are for sale.

Forces Of Nature at Glyndebourne: Artist open houses, Sunday, May 17, 10am to 1pm, open to the public; May 21 to December 13, festival and tour ticket holders only.

Lesley Birch marks the moment with Musical Abstract show at Partisan

Flurry, mixed media on canvas, one of the pieces from Lesley Birch’s new Musical Abstract Collection at Partisan, York

LESLEY Birch’s exhibition Marks & Moments at Partisan, the boho restaurant, café and arts space in Micklegate, York, is a feast of colour and imagination. 

Filling two floors, more than 50 paintings are on view, from Lesley’s  Musical Abstract Collection – large canvases expressing music and movement in nature – to little gouache gems created en plein air in the remote village of Farindola in Abruzzo, Italy.

Reverie, mixed media, by Lesley Birch, who says: “Ethereal energy in expressive brush marks – another from the Musical Abstract Collection”

Lesley’s paintings capture an atmosphere of place and moment with her own personal language of mark-making, whether on paper or on canvas, and this newly opened display showcases it all.

“When Florencia Clifford at Partisan invited me to have a show, I thought it was a grand opportunity to bring a lot of paintings into a buzzy space, where food and art are key,” says Lesley, who works out of PICA Studios, an artist collective space in Grape Lane, York.

The Old Town, oil on canvas, by Lesley Birch: scratches and atmosphere from Lesley’s Italian Collection

“Partisan is a sort of emporium full of collectable stuff, such as vintage lamps and the like, and it’s so exciting to see my paintings in this bohemian setting, reflected off the old French mirrors and hung high and low.”

Divided into colour and spring moods upstairs and dramatic landscapes downstairs, the marks and moments of Lesley’s artistic journey can be seen at Partisan until March 31. All paintings are for sale.

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