Tender touch: Haifa native Sigal Miller captures intimacy in new exhibit

Miller finds couples she knows or finds through advertising on social media, then meets with them and a professional photographer, who takes photos of the couples interacting with each other in both

SIGAL MILLER – observing authentic, honest relationships.  (photo credit: SIGAL MILLER)
SIGAL MILLER – observing authentic, honest relationships.
(photo credit: SIGAL MILLER)
Sigal Miller loves love. She also loves art. It is no surprise that her first exhibition after making the brave decision to focus solely on her art, following many years of balancing a “day job” and her artistic endeavors, which center around couples’ relationships.
Her process is unique. Miller finds couples she knows or finds through advertising on social media, then meets with them and a professional photographer, who takes photos of the couples interacting with each other in both day-to-day and more intimate scenes. After the photo shoot, Miller chooses photos to paint from, giving the paintings both realism and a splash of fantasy. Her Touch Me exhibition, at which her work will be on display, opens at the Abraham Hostel Gallery in Tel Aviv on May 30 and will run through June 29. Miller sat down with The Jerusalem Post to discuss her artistic inspiration and what’s on the horizon.
Where did you grow up and how did that influence you as an artist?
I was born in Haifa, where I grew up in a loving family. It seems to me that from the moment I could hold a crayon, I drew.
One of the influencing factors which eventually led me to becoming an artist was my amazing relationship with my maternal grandmother, an autodidact who spoke seven languages, coached me in matriculation-level English, took me to see Eskimo Limon (“Lemon Popsicle”) when I was 12, and when she started studying art at 60-something years old, methodically taught me everything she learned. Together we’d sit for hours making pencil and charcoal sketches of objects we set in front of us.
My grandmother spoke about concepts such as composition, light and shadow, perspective, tonality and more. I remember her handwritten lists of terms ordered in groups, such as the names of colors accompanied by a splash of that color. We spent many exciting hours together. They were very empowering. Even now, hardly a day goes by that my grandmother doesn’t come into my thoughts. ‘What a shame,’ I often think, ‘that she can’t see what I’ve achieved as an artist.’
Do you remember when you first realized that you were an artist and what that meant to you?
For most of my life, I fought to set aside time to paint but there were periods when I painted a lot less, or hardly at all, working as I was from morning to night and raising my kids pretty much alone as a divorced mother. The turning point, which made me realize I was heading back into art forever, was when my middle son, Ori, asked me to help him with a large-scale drawing.
We opened a book of other artists’ work, and he chose a landscape. I bought a large sheet of heavy artists’ paper, brushes and acrylic paints. I guided him as he worked, and he did well. But that made my fingertips begin to itch. I felt that I just had to get back to painting. And I did, as far as time allowed, by joining an art workshop. I came to realize that I’d never again put painting on hold. In 2005, I presented my first solo exhibition, in 2008 I held another solo showing, and never stopped painting.
Later, I joined the Haifa Artists’ Union. Another critical juncture occurred some 18 months ago when I decided to devote myself more fully to painting, even though I sorely lacked for free time, and hold a new solo exhibition. The third and apparently final influence, and a highly important one, took place some months ago as a result of a difficult emotional crisis caused by unimaginable overload and burnout. Literally a moment before the onset of total collapse, I decided to leave my job as a Ministry of Education teacher and switch to my greatest and truest love: art. Since then, I’ve been busy realizing myself every single day, very aware of the amazing privilege I enjoy now.
Your new exhibition is called Touch Me, why did you choose that title?
For this exhibition, a major milestone in my life, I chose Amit Ron as artistic manager and curator. He’s a brilliant director who comes from the world of theater production. He suggested two names, and instantly I fell in love with Touch Me. There’s something about the sound of the words, and their meaning, that just does it for me. It has a teasing, sexy allure, implies passion, but on the other hand has a far deeper meaning which I couldn’t ignore. Most of my life has passed without a partner, and I seek that touch, not only at the physical level but at the level of the inner soul, the link to authenticity, hence the choice of Touch Me as the exhibition’s title.
How many drawings are in the exhibition altogether and how did you decide which to include?
So here we are, chatting, eight days before the exhibition’s opening. The works have yet to be hung. At home, 33 pieces are waiting to be transferred in two days’ time to the Abraham Hostel in Tel Aviv where Amit and I will make our final decisions on what gets included. From my point of view, they’re all equally worthy, but because there needs to be a balanced ratio between works and available space, I might just have to deselect some. That means several works won’t be featured in the exhibition.
As far as I’m concerned, any work that is the outcome of intentional focus on the exhibition, and from new sessions in photography with their accompanying paintings, like same-sex partners, must all be in that exhibition. Up until recently, I only painted relationships between a man and a woman, but my developing interest in painting same-sex couples moves me so much that I can’t imagine foregoing on any of those paintings being displayed.
Did you use models for these paintings, and are they couples you know?
Yes, most of the work in this exhibition involved models who participated in the photographic sessions which I then worked from. I wasn’t familiar with some of the models beforehand, although others I did know, even very well, such as my oldest son and my daughter in law.
Your drawings are very distinct. I can feel the emotion coming off of them just from looking at them. I also love seeing different scenes of the same couple. It’s like I get to know them as I see glimpses of their intimacy. What is your creative process?
My creative process is very exciting. Sometimes I feel like an actor who has gone out to live in the field as preparation for a specific role. I approach people I know or recruit couples by advertising on social networks. I choose a suitable location, giving consideration to the environment’s appropriateness, coordinate with a professional photographer, and then we set out for a photo shoot.
Beforehand, I talk with the couples, try to get a feel for who they are, understand through them something about the kind of location that would show their relationship off best, and then we head to the set. Sometimes the photographer or I give the couple some guidelines, but usually after they loosen up there’s no need for words or instruction.
Every couple has a unique way of communicating to each other, and all that’s left for the photographer and me is simply to let them be themselves, naturally, authentically, the way they are used to being, and document those unique moments. I provide the environment, maybe offer some suggestions or ideas, but the couple leads the session. I believe that my work is moving because it comes from observing authentic, honest relationships.
What do you hope the people who come to see your exhibition will take away?
I want people attending my exhibition to feel their emotions surfacing, to connect, to love. If that happens, then as far as I’m concerned, I’ve succeeded. I want people to understand that emotion, when real, is the most beautiful and correct thing, regardless of gender. No matter the gender, love and passion are stirring emotions, and when they’re honest, they’re right, and they’re beautiful.
What’s next for you?
‘Next’ is already here. It actually started some months ago when I chose to be an artist 24/7.The ‘next’ thing is to continue living this creative existence around the clock: to get up in the morning and paint, to go and see art, to promote my work as a way of achieving national recognition, and maybe international recognition, perhaps London, Berlin, maybe even New York.
Meanwhile, I want to continue painting relationships because this subject matter fascinates and excites me, and I doubt it will ever stop doing that. I’ve just got to create from within my own truth, from the things that burn inside me, that truly enthuse and animate me. And after that next thing, I hope it will be possible to steep myself in art while living in Berlin or some other place in the world.
To learn more about Sigal Miller, go to sigal-miller.com.