Optical and Tactile: Artist Holly Miller


Model Pauline Hoarau in Haute Hippie, shot recently in Chelsea, NYC, by Angelo Pennetta

The photographs in our fall Labels We Love spotlight features the amazingly bold, graphic multimedia paintings of artist Holly Miller. Born in Buffalo, NY, and raised in Rome as the daughter of an American journalist, Miller now calls Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, home. We caught up with her in the studio as she prepared for a few forthcoming exhibitions of her work.


Hi, Holly! We love the colors, textures and shapes of your paintings – it was wonderful to be able to incorporate them with this shoot. What’s your process in making your work?

The shapes are inspired by many things that I see in everyday life or that I remember from my childhood – Italian designs and objects from the ‘60s. Shapes from la Vespa or la Bialetti espresso maker to the silhouettes of buildings in the city. The geometric shapes appear to be hard-edged, but upon looking more closely, the irregular imperfections of the hand are revealed. The surfaces are very painterly: the brush strokes are visible and create another dimension of tactility. The threaded lines are drawn with a long needle. My paintings end up being very intuitive…. I stop when it feels right.


Your incorporation of thread and painting is very subtle and beautiful – where does that idea come from?

To grow up in Rome is to live in a culture that’s all about communicating through the touch. Body language is something I am very familiar with – it is not uncommon for total strangers in Rome to touch you when giving you directions, for example. I have always been interested in finding a way to capture the physical in painting. I am also very interested in line drawing. Thread can be a tactile drawing. It is [also] suggestive of writing and language and carries many metaphors: stitching, mending, continuity, connection, interruption, the feminine…. Thread is delicate and strong at the same time. It creates a sculptural aspect to the surface. It also creates subtle shadows that underscore the fragile materiality of the work. I try to merge the optical with the tactile.


What is inspiring you lately as a creative person?

Although I live an artist’s life, my days are very much about a repetitive routine. I work until early afternoon most of the time. Once my 13-year-old boy is home from school, I go shopping for food in the neighborhood and quite often head out to Chelsea, the Lower East Side or Brooklyn to go to galleries. Then, if I’m not home too late, I cook for my family. To me cooking is very much like painting. It’s about texture, color, composition and I use few, fresh ingredients to create something beautiful and delicious. I am also a substitute Art teacher at St Ann’s – this is where my routine is flexible. I love to teach kids and teenagers, and on those days I might work in the studio later.

These days I am very inspired and excited about creating new paintings. When I feel inspired I have a heightened level of awareness – I see and feel more than usual. I love feeling this way and it doesn’t always happen. So for now I am trying to spend as much time as I can in my studio painting and thinking.


See more of Holly’s work in our fall Labels We Love spotlight, photographed by Angelo Pennetta in Chelsea, NYC – and check out Holly’s website at