The Painter Henry Miller, “When I Write, I Work. When I Paint, I Play.”

The Painter Henry Miller, “When I Write, I Work. When I Paint, I Play.”


Henry Miller, the painter
Tue, Mar 10, 3 and 5pm
Studio 64
San Jorge 64
Colonia San Antonio
300 pesos per person
Please make your reservations early
and specify which lecture, 3pm or 5pm

By Béa Aaronson

Very few people know that the famous author of the Tropic of Cancer was also a painter. Like his writing, his painting was a metaphor for living life to the fullest. Miller belongs to this fertile earth of artists who used the verbal and the visual as the systole and the diastole of their becoming. The image is always at the core of his plural identities whether dressed up in words, lines, or colors, the image builds the creative soul and resonates within its infinite potential. Miller belongs to the likes of Victor Hugo, Baudelaire, Lorca, and Cocteau—to name but a few—who were projecting their inner selves through novels, poems, plays, movies, and in the visual arts.

Miller began painting in the 1920s, before writing! It was the Romantic painter, Turner, who turned Miller on. After seeing some prints in a Brooklyn department store window, Miller was enthused and intoxicated by the English master’s use of light and color and the power of his cosmic fluidity. Other artists who opened their souls to the visual dimension of creativity were Matisse, Chagall, Picasso, George Grosz, Michonze. If I had to characterize Miller’s artistic endeavor, I would have to say that the surrealism of dreams, the expressionist power of the primitive, the Fauve exaltation of color, the moving simplicity of naïve art, the Dadaist sense of humor, the unsoiled, sincere playfulness of children’s art, the poetic fluidity of Japanese Sumi compositions are all present in the work of his imagination.

Totally infused with the Taoist philosophy of Wu Wei—which I shall explain in the lecture—it is no wonder that Miller chose watercolor as his medium of predilection: “The watercolor has affinities with the sonnet, or the haiku, rather than the jeremiad. It captures the flux and essence, the flavor and perfume, rather than the substance. Ambiance, that is what the watercolor renders par excellence.” (To Paint is to Love Again, Henry Miller.)

Miller created more than 3,000 watercolors as well as etchings, lithographs, and serigraphs, which he would stack on his beloved ping-pong table. The fact he did not know how to draw did not hinder him in the least. Au contraire, art was not about rules, formalism, structure, dramatic unity, or mere savoir faire¾it was about passion and imagination. And this, he had plenty of!

Miller had many exhibits of his art work during his lifetime in the US, Japan, Paris, and Sweden but sold very few paintings. He often bartered them for art supplies in New York, cups of coffee in the streets of Paris, and for food and clothing in Big Sur, but he mostly gave them away to friends and fans throughout the world.