Historically, the art sector is seen as a white middle-class industry — often heavily male-dominated — leaving many marginalized artists to feel they are not welcome in the art community. Kellie Miller is one artist who is hoping to change how we engage with art through not only her work as an artist but through her work as a gallery owner, highlighting how engaging with art shouldn’t be a privilege but a right.
In conversation, Kellie details what led her to become an artist and what the future holds for her.
JB: What initially inspired you to start your creative practice?
Kellie Miller: It’s a decision I probably made when I was about 15. I decided to follow a creative path. Although I didn’t necessarily want to be an artist, I knew I wanted to make my living from my creativity. That’s how my path started. From there, I received my Foundation Degree from Camberwell School of Art, my BA from Brighton University, and my MA in Arts Criticism at City University. From there, it was just looking for opportunities, and I think there are always opportunities or little gaps between, but if I noticed those opportunities, they led me to my next one.
JB: How would you describe your artistic work?
Kellie Miller: I’m currently at a crossroads with my artistic work. However, it has always been based on nature, whether abstract or more representational. Regardless, it has a spiritual message, which some people pick up on. And I feel like people can connect with the work when going through a life change or some form of transition.
My work has changed over time, though, due to outside influences which are constantly evolving. For example, when I first graduated, I had the opportunity to work with ceramics, so that’s what I did for some time, and now I have found myself doing paintings which I have been doing for at least 12 years. So now I am at the stage on whether I will like to continue on this painting route or back into three-dimensional work.
JB: How does it feel operating as a Black woman in the art industry? Have you encountered any obstacles?
Kellie Miller: A lot has been unearthed for me, particularly over the last year with the Black Lives Matter movement; it’s been an awakening for me. I’m currently at a crossroads where I’ve got enough road behind me while new paths are also opening up based on my longevity in the arts industry. Then, I also have this awareness as a woman operating within the MeToo movement. So I’m working within these two movements, so everything feels a bit raw for me because I’m starting to question what it means to be an “acceptable” Black person in my field.
I’ve done a lot more thinking on how I have done things to fit in. Although I have been my own boss throughout my whole life, there is still this element of working with others that look different compared to myself. So last year, I started to speak out more, which made me quite vulnerable. Within my gallery operations, I only have three Black clients, which has led me to encourage Black people to engage more with arts and even become collectors.
Mainly, I think it’s interesting to discuss the differences between the United States’s approach to the conversation around the colonialism empire, along with the concepts that contribute to our narrative of not belonging. That also goes along with how many infrastructures were created to exclude the Black community. I still get questions today regarding where I am from because they do not expect to meet someone like me (especially in this industry).
I’ve reached a stage in my life where I am becoming a little bit rebellious; I’m not playing the game.
I’ve reached a stage in my life where I am becoming a little bit rebellious; I’m not playing the game. I am saying things that may make people uncomfortable, and I find myself constantly on the fringes of things. I feel as if I’m not business enough in the business remit, and I’m not creative enough in the art remit. So when I’m in these business spaces, I question why I am the only Black woman in the room. I question that.
JB: What does the future hold for you?
Kellie Miller: Well, I’ve got lots of ambitions. Although operating the gallery is first and foremost on my mind, my main thing is I would like to keep a balance between my creative work and the gallery work. I want to be much more able to go out and meet clients and artists and find talent. So I have been spending a lot of time trying to get the foundations of this right and find the right support networks over the last couple of years.
There’s also always an element of philanthropy within me. I want to be able to do more of that work, such as sponsoring a student, for example, and setting up a foundation at some point, which would heavily involve education, including the arts. I feel it’s being underestimated; it feels like it’s not being seen as a priority.
I don’t think the arts and creativity is a privilege. I think it’s a right.
There’s a lack of awareness of what the arts can bring, and necessarily training artists, but creative thinkers. So I’m quite keen to get disadvantaged people involved in the arts that don’t get that opportunity. Because in some worlds it is seen as a privilege, and I don’t think the arts and creativity is a privilege. I think it’s a right. I believe we are born with being creative. I always like to link creativity to sports in a way as if you don’t use it, you lose it. And although I feel that creativity is ironed out of us when we get older through conditioning, I think creativity still is within us, and we can still get creative and live a creative life.
© Jessica Bond (3/18/2022) Special for FF2 Media.
LEARN MORE/DO MORE
Visit Kellie’s online art gallery.
Follow Kellie on Instagram.
PHOTOS & PERMISSIONS
Bottom Photo: Just one corner of Kellie Miller Arts.
Photos courtesy of Jessica Bond. Authorized for responsible use as long as link to this URL is included in user’s post.