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Interview with artist Sarah Miller

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A while back, I was sifting through some Pistons-related Google results when I happened across some intriguing portraits of Ben Wallace, Chauncey Billups, Darko Milicic, Joe Dumars, Rasheed Wallace, Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince. After some more poking around, I discovered the artist to be Sarah Miller from nearby Toledo, Ohio.

I'm hardly a qualified art critic, but I can appreciate talent when I see it, and I was immediately interested by the fact that a clearly talented artist had incorporated the Pistons into her portfolio. I contacted Sarah and asked if I could ask her a few questions to post on Detroit Bad Boys, and she graciously accepted.

Matt Watson: I'm a bit of a hack when it comes to understanding art, but I've always appreciated the more abstract stuff, in part because I think it reveals and evokes an artist's feelings.

Sarah Miller: Well you are actually on track to really be able to appreciate art, because art should be 'felt' not 'understood'. That is the biggest misconception there is about art. So you are right that you feel abstraction (which comes from the Latin 'to take from') rather than try to simply recognize objects or people.

MW: I stumbled across your Pistons work, and I was immediately interested in your motivation or inspiration for creating it. What was it?

SM: I have been a serious Pistons fan since the 1980's. I played basketball in high school, where I was a defender. That's why Ben Wallace is my favorite dude. I was a shot blocker, rebounder and maybe I was not quite Ben's size, but I can relate to Ben and his heart. Back in the day, I liked Joe D and Isiah. Rodman was all right.

MW: Are you from the Detroit area? Did you grow up a basketball fan? Have you ever painted any other sports figures?

SM: I'm from Toledo. Basketball has always been my favorite national sport. Not really that into college ball per say, only the Pistons keep my attention. I told people in the 2004 season the Bad Boys were playin' the best basketball in the world, but nobody really listened until after they won their ring. I've painted pop-culture portraits for 15 years, Pablo Picasso being my first artist and Bob Marley being my first musician. My Pistons series is the first time I've painted sports figures. After they won the 2004 ring, I thought it would be a nice tribute.

Joe Dumars
MW: Were you trying to evoke a particular quality or personality trait with each portrait?

SM: Absolutely. Although I've never hung out with any of the current players, I have watched hundreds of minutes of games, been to games and feel I can get into their personalities. Well certainly, their player mentality. I did meet Joe D in Spain in the mid 90's and it does not surprise me that he assembled this squad.

Ben Wallace
MW: Maybe it's just me, but when I look at the Ben Wallace portrait, I think "strong."

SM: Ben Wallace is a tremendous athlete. He seems like a really kind dude as well. I like that combination of strength and kindness. Ben lost his mother Sadie, and I recently lost my father. So when the paint dripped under his eye, I left it there as a symbol for the parents we had lost. It took me three portraits to finally get Ben. Every other portrait happened immediately, and I felt it captured an essence of the player. Abstraction is about essences.

Rasheed WallaceTayshaun Prince

MW: Rasheed Wallace looks very focused, while Tayshaun Prince almost seems very innocent.

SM: Somehow, to me I captured Rasheed's fire. And if that boy does not have fire, I'm not sure who does. He was a brilliant addition to the team. Tayshaun is like a young kid, with great skills. He is calm, almost Zen like out there.

MW: And this could be just me over-analyzing it, but I thought it was appropriate that Chauncey Billups, the point guard, the man making the decisions, is looking around.

Chauncey Billups
SM: Chauncey was the first portrait I did. I have an improvisational style that is similar to jazz. After I created Chauncey, it was exactly what I wanted to say. Chauncey is always looking around, looking to score, looking to make it happen. And he also has a certain slickness about him.

MW: Are these items for sale? Where are they right now?

SM: All of the paintings are for sale. The larger 50" x 30" (Big Ben, Rasheed, Darko, Rip, Joe) are $4,700. The medium size 40" x 40" (Chauncey, Tayshaun) are $4,500. All works are mixed media on canvas, 2004. All the portraits are in my studio.

MW: When did you first realize that you were going to become a "professional artist?"

SM: Well I wanted to be an artist as a little kid, around five. I guess I always knew I would be an artist and the 'professional' part just comes with the territory.

MW: Do you find it difficult to give up a piece of work that you've created?

SM: It depends on the work. Portraits are harder than non-objective (abstract) works.

MW: The biography on your site says that you're on the faculty at Owens Community College. What are you teaching? How long have you been teaching?

SM: I've been on faculty at Owens since 2003. I teach fine art and art history. Teaching has been a rewarding way to connect with the community.