Hugh Miller, Artist

I design and make studio furniture in wood. My studio is in central Liverpool, and my work is influence by a set of Japanese design principles
developed during a research study in Japan in 2015.

What was your first memory of creativity?

Playing with sellotape, cardboard and string in my room to try to make a contraption that would allow me to turn the light off from in bed. I think I was about 4 years-old.

What was your creative journey to get to where you are?

In 2015, I was awarded a Churchill Memorial Fellowship to go to Japan. I’d become fascinated with Japanese design during my architectural education, because of its strong vernacular aesthetic and unparalleled understanding of materials. I spent two months interviewing and learning from some of the best applied wood artists on the planet, and the experience was transformational.

As a result I developed a set of three design principles, based in Japanese design theory, that now underpin
my work.

The first is ‘AN ABSENCE OF NOISE’ where extraneous details are removed to leave only those that elevate an idea’s essential intentions. It’s achieved through a quietness in articulation. Crucially – it doesn’t mean silence – the work should still have a voice – it’s the absence of noise, not of sound.

The second principle is – ‘A SEARCH FOR LIGHTNESS’ – in both materials and form. This lightness of touch demonstrates reverence for the material and the user.

The third principle is ‘A CONTRIBUTION TO HARMONY’, which means that a piece should not demand attention, but quietly await inspection, and reward the inquisitive viewer with previously unseen detail.

What impact have big name clients had on your career?

One client in particular, who is a wealthy entrepreneur from Cheshire, has been wonderful in that he has commissioned a lot of work. He has also taken an interest in my business and given some very useful mentorship. However I think it’s really important not to rely on a single client – if you are doing, it’s probably worth investing some more time in expanding your client base.

How do you establish your own style over a period of time and still stay relevant?

I think I do this by conforming to my three design principles, and challenging myself with each new piece. This way, my design language has an evolving continuity, but the resulting work avoids becoming stale.

Does your work develop thematically, or is it more distinctive and random?

It absolutely develops thematically, and is based around my research in Japan. My latest collection ‘The Coffee Ceremony’ is a homage to the Japanese tea ceremony. The everyday rituals of life in Japan inspired me to develop a ceremony of my own, based on my ritualistic attitude to coffee. Within this context, the process of making the pieces and the process of making coffee emerge as the same: both are ceremonies of making. The collection was selected by the Crafts Council for Collect, at the Saatchi Gallery in February 2017.

What/Who has been the biggest influence on your work?

Japanese design and wood applied arts are obviously a huge influence on my work. Specifically a chair designer called Santaro, who is based in Sapporo in the north of Japan. I’m also heavily influenced by my architectural education – architects such as Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Alvar Aalto, Frank Lloyd Wright and more recently FT Architects – a wonderful practice based in Tokyo.

What inspires you or provokes the motivation towards creativity within?

Wood. It’s the most amazing material and, as a staunch atheist, it’s as close as I get to a ‘spiritual’ connection. It has a dichotomy of priorities – it’s strong and structural, but really light. It’s hard, but workable with hand tools. It’s stable, but organic and can move and distort with moisture and the seasons. Every piece is different, with unique colours and grain, and working characteristics. Like I said before – it’s a cruel mistress if you misunderstand how it works, but is the softest, strongest, most beautiful material. I love wood.

Which artists/designers do you admire or inspires you the most?

Gareth Neal – Clean, crisp ideas, exquisitely executed.

Angus Ross – Innovative, incredible understanding
of wood.

David Gates – A beautiful continuity in his design language.

What is it you love most about what you do?

The speed with which I can translate a concept, through designing, prototyping and making, into a finished piece. It’s a real joy to see your ideas come to life in front of you.

Event Details: Conversations in Creativity (3pm) 27 April – Roach Bridge Mill