Art collector Henry Miller has been massing artworks focusing on the male form for 30 years. Now he’s selling some of his collection. Here he explains how you can get your hands on some of his prized pieces.
Hello Henry, we are excited about your exhibition, how long have you been collecting and how did you start?
Thank you! I am glad you are excited about the show. So am I! It’s been a true labour of love! I have been collecting since I was a teenager. The first piece I bought was Andy Warhol’s iconic poster for the film Querelle in 1987. At the time it was pretty risqué to have a large poster of a man licking another man’s ear from behind, hanging on your wall, and I had three in different colours! I still have one of them and still love it. I have always liked figurative pictures; the subject might have different clothes or a different hairstyle but when you look at an image of the human form you are, in essence, looking at yourself. Being gay, my focus tends to lean inevitably towards the male, rather than the female form. With regards to my current collection, I wanted to create something unique: there is no other gallery in the UK focusing solely on the male form and which spans the centuries in the way that my collection does.
You normally show your collection in your own home, what’s the idea behind that?
Although I do regularly exhibit at commercial art galleries in central London, I understand they they can sometimes feel a bit soulless and imposing. A few years ago, I bought a derelict home in East London and as I renovated it, I realised that it would make the perfect place to display my pictures. Exhibiting in my home gives the buyer a sense of what the artwork will look like in a domestic setting. It is also a very friendly and informal way to view pictures. People can come for a coffee and wander round looking at the art.
And why have you now decided to do this exhibition at Framers Gallery?
As I said, some galleries can be a bit soulless, but I was really impressed by the feel of the place at the Framers Gallery. It is formed of a number of different rooms, which somehow gives it the feel of being someone’s house. Also the staff there are very friendly and welcoming and its central location in Fitzrovia, just off Tottenham Court Road, makes it very accessible for those coming to the exhibition.
What kind of pieces will be in the show?
All the pieces in the show are figurative pictures, focusing on the male form. Paintings, prints, works on papers (such as drawings and watercolours) and photography. There are some very accessibly priced works, as well as some more expensive ones. There will be a few names that many people will be familiar with, such as Keith Vaughan, Duncan Grant, Oliver Messel and Noel Coward but also lesser known artists that I believe need rediscovering.
What time span is covered in the show?
The oldest piece in my collection dates from around 1600. I also have some more contemporary pieces created in the last few years. And there are a lot of works in the intervening years, with a large proportion of them from the 20th Century.
What are your favourite pieces?
I have a lithograph by Erich Heckel from 1917. It depicts two sailors dancing together in a dance hall surrounded by disapproving onlookers. It is wonderfully simple, extremely sensitive and all the more extraordinary when you consider when it was created. I am also a huge fan of Michael Leonard, a British artist born in 1933 and whose portrait of the Queen hangs at the National Portrait Gallery. Some of your readers might know him for his iconic illustrations of the 1970’s classic book The Joy of Gay Sex. His work is simply exquisite and at the same time suggestively erotic. I have a number of his works in my collection.
What would you like people to get from the show?
Firstly, everyone is welcome to come and look at the work on display, whether or not they have any interest in buying. I also hope that through my collection, people will realise and learn to appreciate, if they don’t already, that older pictures can still be as relevant and as good as more contemporary works. Some people may worry that an old painting will not fit into a contemporary interior, but for me, there is nothing better than a beautiful old master displayed in a very modern setting. The contrast can be breathtaking. Also, I am a strong believer that if you fall in love with a picture that is already 50 or 200 years old, the chances are you will always love it.