Thursday, November 29, 2007

The art of Universal Monster Army's LINDA MILLER

Linda Miller is an artist by talent, training and pluck.

She's also a natural wit, and a librarian by trade. Like me, a member of the Universal Monster Army. At the UMA she impresses everyone with her watercolor renderings of classic horror scenes.

Her freehand black and white watercolors, which capture the mysterious shadow-world quality of glorious black and white films perfectly.

She's also someone I am proud to count as a friend. She's generous, gentle and thoughtful. Not huggy, loud and effusive like the the drunken severed head (well, 'huggy' when I had arms) -- Linda is a low-key, dependable, considerate sort of person we all wish there were more of in this world.

Other LM facts:
  • She collects vintage figurines of hunchbacks.
  • Her cat's name is "Ralphie Scissorpaws".
  • She calls herself "Meek" after her hero, T.E. Lawrence ("Lawrence of Arabia"), who was the original "Private Meek" in George Bernard Shaw's play "Too True To Be Good", and because she is shy by nature.
  • She sends out homemade cards to friends on holidays.
  • She paints in spite of painful corneal dystrophy in her right eye and blurred vision in her left due to an injury.
Here is her face:

And below are photos of the progeny of her talent, followed by an interview Linda gave me. (It's supplemented by the incorporation of a few quotes taken from the UMA message board. They were too good to pass up, and Linda gave me her okay.)

Spend some time in the company of this funny, gifted lady.

From the film The Man Who Laughs:

From the 1931 Dracula:

From the 1931 Frankenstein:

From The Bride of Frankenstein:

(Linda uses her paintings for the cards she sends to friends at holidays. Her 2002 Valentine had the above art on the front, with the interior caption ""From the look on Pretorious' face, Karl could tell that he would not be allowed to attend the local "Sweetheart's Dance" in order to shop for spare parts.")

Here's another Frye/Bride of Frankenstein Valentine:

Son of Frankenstein:

Karloff and Lugosi from The Black Cat:

The kings of horror in the 1935 The Raven:

Lugosi from Chandu the Magician:

White Zombie:

Mark of the Vampire:

Murders in the Rue Morgue:

Bela Lugosi out of costume:

Actor Dwight Frye out of character:

A candid Colin Clive:

Edgar Allan Poe:

Jane and I are proud parents of one of Linda's hideous progeny, one "Erik" of the Parisian catacombs:

Another portrait of Erik, now proudly owned by author Ray Bradbury:

When Michael Crawford was playing the Phantom in Andrew Lloyd Webber musical on Broadway, Linda sent the actor the portrait below, which was done in ink in a pointalistic style with a Rapidograph pen on illustration board:

Creature From the Black Lagoon:

The tallest and darkest Hollywood star of all time:

A broken and toppled sleeping angel sculpture found in London's Highgate Cemetery:

Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff from a TV production of Arsenic and Old Lace:

Her hero, T. E. Lawrence:

Linda far prefers working in B&W, but occasionally paints in color. Below is her portrait of Klaus Kinski from Aguirre, Wrath of God.

Her portrait of Toulouse-Lautrec:

Miniature of Sir Robert Cecil:

Her hand-painted 4 " figure of Hitler's would-be assassin, Claus Stauffenberg:

A coat of arms she designed for a friend who is a Catholic priest:

A restored and re-painted vintage figurine of Quasimodo:

And now the interview, done the day after Thanksgiving, 2007.

Max: Who are your favorite artists, and do you think they have influenced your style?

LM: In no particular order: Albrecht Durer, Henri de Toulous-Lautrec, Vincent Van Gogh, N.C.Wyeth, Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, Eric Kennington and on and on.

Of all the above mentioned I'd have to say that Albrecht Durer was THE influence; in the house where I grew up, there was a framed print of Durer's "Hare"--a rabbit rendered so life-like in watercolor that you waited to see if his nose & whiskers would twitch. My Mum would point to this print and say "Now, when you can paint like that THEN you'll be an artist."

Max: You were told in college that you were more of an illustrator than a painter and to consider a career in medical illustration.

LM: When I asked what that entailed and was told I had to watch surgeries, etc. I said "Not for me, thanks." I have an aversion to blood, real blood not stage blood---I can tell the difference by sight & smell.

After some years of trying to please others in trying to guess what sort of paintings they wanted I said to myself "Bugger 'em all, I'll just paint to please myself." and got a semi-steady job working as a clerk in a library. So now, when I have the time and am in love with a subject---I paint.

A few years ago, Bill Edwards did an article about my work based on classic horror films in "Scary Monsters" and somehow a copy of the article made its way to my former art instructor, Mr. Williams; out of the blue I got an brief e-mail saying something to the effect of "I always knew you'd make it." This from the man who told me that I couldn't use watercolor the way that I now do (little did he know that in saying this he awakened the stubborn German part of my personality which doesn't like to be told such things).

Max: You do black and white watercolors on parchment paper using acrylic paint. I've never seen any other examples of this technique. How do you create your pictures?

LM: I use the black paint as a thin wash and then build layer on layer for contrast in greys and then sometimes add just a touch of white as highlights where needed.

Max: Why do you believe you were attracted to monsters and the macabre?

LM: Monsters are usually on the fringe of society and for the most part, not of their own choosing----I've always been the odd one out so monsters have always had my sympathies. Being raised on the Brothers Grimm, mythology and a healthy dose of superstition can turn a person slightly, too. As for the macabre, my great-grandmother in Germany was the little old lady dressed in black who served as the village undertaker; when someone died, they'd call her and she'd come over to the house, give the departed their final scrub-up and lay them out in their shroud until the carpenter made the coffin. I heard all sorts of stories about Little Oma's adventures in undertaking.

Max: Did your love of monsters ever get you into trouble as a kid?

LM: No, not really. I did have a spell of sleepwalking for a few years between the ages of 8 & 12 which my Mum was positive that the cause was watching too many old horror films and "Dark Shadows"--- then the horror ban was imposed at home but it didn't last because my Father saw no harm in it and used to watch the movies with us and we had our secret stash of "Famous Monsters".

Max: What are your favorite monsters from Universal's movies? Or from other studios? What do you like about them?

LM: I don't think that I have one favorite Universal monster above all the others---they all equally occupy a very warm spot in my flinty heart. I am overly fond of "Fritz" and "Renfield", both little men caught in circumstances way beyond their control or comprehension and have often wondered what sort of lives they led before the story-lines in the movies pick them up at that point in time. Renfield attended Oxford which is a famous spawing ground for England's eccentrics---as for Fritz, I suspect that he was really related to Henry due to the Baron having a bit of a fling with one of the maids in the household staff (that sounds better than a troll who came with the castle). Non-Universal monster? Gotta be King Kong---the old boy really has a personality courtesy of his animator. The older I get the harder it is for me to watch the end of Kong because my glasses fog over and my eyes begin to leak.

Max: Your 3 or 4 favorite classic monster films and/or favorite horror films are...

LM: In no particular order:
  • "Dracula"
  • "Frankenstein"
  • "The Bride of Frankenstein" (oh, the graveyard humor gets me everytime)
  • "The Mummy", etc.
  • Honorable Mention: "Death Takes a Holiday."
Max: Describe one scary memory connected with a classic monster or horror star.

LM: Universal monsters never frightened me but one partial viewing of "The Frozen Dead" unnerved me--so much in fact that I've never bothered to try and watch this film again---it was the scene with the dead German soldiers hanging in the freezer that did it 40 years ago. At least that's a sound fright and not a weenie one like being scared of the Flying Monkeys in
"The Wizard of Oz".

I have memories of being in the 3rd Grade and our teacher would always have us bring in newspaper clippings for current events to put up on the bulletin board and someone brought in Karloff's obituary which had a rather large photo of him from "Son of Frankenstein" accompanying it. I can also remember feeling like I'd lost a relative because Boris Karloff was so much a part of my childhood up to that point in time.

Max: What surprises or opportunities has the Universal Monster Army brought you?

LM: Ah, the UMA is a refuge for Monster Kids to feel at home in and I've acquired a few new friends as well. Oh, yes---the twisted sense of humor is most appealing to me as well. Pun-ishment, Thy name is UMA.

Max: The best monster items ever made are...

LM: I'm a poor judge of this topic but the Aurora plastic monster model kits of the 1960's, the plastic Marx figures of the Universal monsters (I carried around the blue Frankenstein's Monster wrapped in a hunk of blanket when rather small) and the Soakies---always wondered why the Mummy's eye was bloody.

Max: Have you ever repainted your toys or collectables?

LM: Yes. I've repainted some of my Sideshow figures---both Fritz & Renfield have had make-overs; they now both have [the correct] blue eyes instead of brown. Fritz has a whole new set of clothes that look more like what he wore in "Frankenstein"---and dirty fingernails.

And I've repainted my "Werewolf of London"---he looked like he had lip gloss on which bothered the Hell out of me---such a nice sculpt ruined by a bad paint job. When young, my brother & I painted and repainted out plastic Marx monsters. I repainted the little plastic monster figures from "Dollar Tree" for a friend last year.

Max: You live in Iowa, where both the political campaign season and the holiday season are in full force. Any comments?

LM: My holiday funk has kicked in but I'm attempting to keep the black dog at bay by keeping my hands busy with projects.

If I could talk to the candidates, I'd tell them all to go away. It's the caucus race in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. They only care about us once every four years. Buggers.

Max: Thank you for taking time out on "Black Friday" to do this e-mail interview.

LM: Lucky for you I had much time to sit in the car in parking lots today and avoid the rutting of the American Buck.

February 2010: More photos of Linda's work added.


Liz D-M said...

Love the play of light, line and shadow ... beautiful work from "Meek", as always.

John Rozum said...

Linda's stuff is really wonderful. I love that she also takes the time to meticulously render the backgrounds.

Famous Monster of Mpls said...

A wonderful read about a wonderful person. Linda's art continues to dazzle as much as her wit and charm does. A dear friend of whom I consider blessed to know!

Anonymous said...

"I repainted the little plastic monster figures from "Dollar Tree" for a friend last year."

I was that honored friend. And I will post some pics at the UMA soon.

Thanks, Max; Rest, Linda - see you again!


Peter Knight said...

Good grief these are exceptional. You are extremely talented. I'm a hardcore Lugosi fan and your portraits are by far the best I've ever seen.


Related Posts with Thumbnails