Without the influence of the works of Ian Miller my attitude to art would be very different. An inspiration to me in formative years he very much helped secure a love of art and illustration. In my teens I was deeply engrossed in the world of Games Workshop, religiously purchasing the monthly magazine White Dwarf. Primarily scouring it’s pages for updated rules to tabletop games and guidance on which miniatures to throw my pocket money towards. I retain vivid memories of a fascination with the almost abstract and surreal images of alien worlds and demonic creatures.
The artists whose work really stood out were Ian Miller and John Blanche. I could stare into those drawings for hours, imagining the worlds that stretched beyond the edges of the paper in front of me. Ian Miller’s artistry was really my first introduction into something a little more out there, something deeper and greater than the usual straightforward depictions of dragons and warriors, something a little more ambiguous, ambitious, something a little more open to interpretation.
For an embarrassingly short period I held a part-time position at a local branch of Games Workshop, retail and me were not the most natural of partners and I was told as such. One of the jobs given out to the most junior (and socially inept) of staff was to clear out the cupboards at the back of the store, not a task promising of great rewards but one I enjoyed. They were filled to the ceiling with a fascinating assortment of treasures and it gave me a chance to indulge in some minor archaeology, discovering bits and pieces from games long forgotten, exciting one-offs and obscure detritus.
While burrowing and sorting through the mountains of geeky game related tat, I stumbled upon a copy of the Games Workshop release Ratspike – A collection of art from both Ian Miller and John Blanche. I really wanted this, I really really wanted this, but I lacked the social skills to ask if I could have it or buy it, and being pre-internet it was surprisingly hard for an awkward teenager to track down copies of out of print art books. Then a few years back it called to me from deep in my memory and I picked up a second hand copy via ABE books (wonderful resource if you like slightly difficult to find publications). It was all that it had promised, it’s a wonderful publication filled with beautiful darkness, I really recommend seeking it out.
Sadly, last year I had to place an embargo on myself buying any art books. We can’t afford them and we’ve run out of book space. But while scrolling through Tumblr for pictures of cats in hats and bad estate agent photos, I chanced upon an image of a new Ian Miller release. Pretty much on instinct I ordered a copy before my conscious mind had a chance to intervene, and before Karen could slam the laptop on my hands (I may have instinctively hidden in the cupboard to make the purchase, I can’t quite remember).
My arrival home from work a few days later was greeted by a highly excitable child waving a very big box at me, certain it contained some exciting toys for him. It was instead a very over-packaged copy of The Art of Ian Miller, this was clearly as exciting as a big box of toys, I let Alexander open it for me and was rewarded with “DRAGONS, LOOK DADDY DRAGONS DRAAAAGONS” – an excited scream.
The book itself is a thing of beauty, a comfortably sturdy hardback, perfect for leafing through while sipping on a steaming cup of tea (a nice blend of orange and cinnamon in my case). It’s well laid out with decently large, full page images (there’s nothing worse than an art book containing nothing but tiny thumbnails). It’s a little too weighty to swat wasps with, but could easily take out a spider or two (not that I approve of such things, either the destruction of our eight legged friends or the damaging of good books with their innards).
The foreword is provided by Brian Sibley and gives us some nice background information on Ian Miller and his works, with some details on Ian’s work for the Tolkien Bestiary, Lovecraft and White Dwarf. Then onwards to the art.
The chapters are broken down roughly according to subject (Maelstron, Dragons, Castles & Kingdoms, Trees, etc). Each with an introduction by Ian and some additional notes to complement and explain certain pieces. The notes contain some beautiful descriptions of the methods and process behind the works, and are written with wit and warmth. I feel there’s something so much more inspiring when an artist takes the time to talk about their process and decisions, it shows a sense of care and responsibility not just for the original art, but for the publication itself and for those reading it.
It’s a fantastic selection of Ian Miller’s works throughout the years, commercial works, private commissions, and personal projects. Initial sketches, finished pieces and some great comparison pieces (initial sketch beside final piece). There’s dragons, demons, elder gods, warriors, machines, landscapes, trees, dolls, chaos, the trees (again), the fish, the nightmares, the dreams, the trees, the geometry, the patterns, the rocking horses and the trees. I really am incredibly keen on the trees, I often think of his work when out walking and I come across a particularly twisted tree, preferably with strange enigmatic items hanging from it’s gnarled branches.
Although this could be filed under ‘fantasy art’ I’m not comfortable with that as a label, too much of the fantasy art I’ve experienced has been the terrible formulaic images of boobs and dragons, also there’s far more weight in here to be casually shoved into a single category. If there was an overriding theme it would be closer to gothic horror than anything else, but that also is too narrow a label. There are many moments of darkness inside but for balance there is much light as well, the dragons and tarot card images especially are bright and uplifting, bringing harmony to the darkness.
My personal favourite aspects are the landscapes, which conjure up chaotic, flickering unrealities, impossible looking cities, laid siege by armies of despair. The more desolate of the environments bring to mind trips to abandoned places, wandering round in the twilight, never being sure you’re quite as alone as you would like, wondering if there’s something just out of sight waiting for you. The cities, empty at first sight but with closer investigation are home to unpleasant things which creep and crawl and give off subtle hints of ancient nightmares.
It’s not all bleak landscapes and daemonic shrubbery, far from it. Some of the high points are the almost fairy tale like images (Udderwoman, the Rocking Horse Factory, etc), bright colours, set against sullen looking, sometimes psychotic looking characters. There are organic looking machines and highly geometric looking fish, lots of fish. The mechanical chess pieces are fantastic.
Having already stated I’m not a fan of drawings of dragons, the dragons in here are masterful. Sharp edged and baroque, they have a style of their own. As with many of the other images throughout Miller’s work they are often made up as much of pattern and ornament as reptilian flesh. The patterns are complex and beautiful, and again as with many other of the images it’s sometimes difficult to see where the dragon ends and scenery begins.
Overall a book of bleak darkness with scintillating hints of light, always with humour and style, and the trees… oh, the trees.
Some images from The Art of Ian Miller
Some images from Ratspike