Alexander Millar is one of the UK’s most popular working artists. His highly collectable work hangs in private collections and public galleries worldwide, and his critical reputation is only growing.
Millar is known for finding the extraordinary in the ordinary details of day-to-day life. He often draws on his working class upbringing in Scotland for his work, mixing thick brushstrokes with lighter touches to capture his memories on the canvas.
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Alexander Millar was born in the small mining town of Springside, near Kilmarnock on Scotland’s west coast in 1960. His father worked for British Rail and Millar spent a lot of time with him at local train stations, which he describes as the most romantic, nostalgic places to be.
On his time growing up in Springside, Millar says he was fascinated by the small details of life, standing in awe at “something as insignificant as an old man getting off a bike.” This eye for wonder is evident in Millar’s work throughout his career.
In 1976, Millar left school and moved south of the border to Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. In Newcastle he bore witness to more working men and women going about their daily lives in what he saw as almost a “choreographed dance routine.” Millar turned his hand to a string of different jobs for his first twelve years in the city, until he decided to pursue artistry full time in 1988.
Since Millar is completely self-taught, he has a unique and idiosyncratic style that draws on his sense for atmosphere and tendency to see the wonder in the smallest of moments. His first paintings began to explore his trademark ‘Gadgie’ characters — large working men in coats and flatcaps, often with children, almost always with their backs to the viewer. The bulky shoulders and oversized shoes of these characters emphasise the industrial nature of Millar’s surroundings. He also worked on landscapes, focusing on the factories these characters would frequent.
Eventually Millar entered his work into the ‘Not the Turner Prize’ competition ran by a popular newspaper, where he was selected as a finalist and exhibited in London. After that, his work began to be exhibited all over the UK. Some of his most famous paintings include ‘Cowboys’, ‘Happy Days’ and ‘The Wonder Of It All’.
Millar’s work struck a chord with the British public, capturing the hearts of many. His paintings grew in popularity, as epitomised by the recent sale of the original copy of ‘The Wonder Of It All’ for £100,000, making Millar one of only five Scottish artists to have sold a piece for that much in the past decade.
Alexander Millar’s paintings have been praised for their intimate truths, portraying the uniqueness of the post-WWII era with sensitivity and optimism. His emotive manipulation of size and proportion brings a playful element to his work, and creates a sense of childlike wonder at the everyday heroism of his working class figures.