As the world approaches the 20th anniversary of 9-11, acclaimed artist Alexander Millar explains how this tragedy influenced a whole portfolio of paintings.
As one of the UK’s most loved and collectable artists, this self-taught, contemporary impressionist artist,’s work depicts the small wonder of the everyday through his oil paintings and drawings.
A visit to the small church that displayed memorials at Ground Zero in New York, set this highly respected artist on journey that led to a Museum exhibition at The New York City Fire Museum, a two year exhibition in his own gallery on Manhattan’s 5th Avenue and a wide collection of paintings and prints that pay tribute to New York’s ‘Bravest’.
This visit inspired Millar to paint scenes of New York firefighters , particular firefighters of colour and women firefighters whose selfless acts of bravery that day had gone largely unreported by the mainstream media at the time.
Alexander explains “a turning point came after I watched a video of a woman called Pearl Maynard. She recalled that day and of how she watched her son, Keithroy, preparing for his shift in Ladder 33 of the FDNY. It would be the last time she saw her son as he headed out on a beautiful autumn morning.
One of my paintings was a tribute to Keithroy. He held the Stars and Stripes and had his name ‘Maynard’ printed on the tail of his uniform – a customary practice for all firefighters. In the painting I included his helmet with the number of his firehouse.
Little did I know how much this painting would impact on my life a year later, when I exhibited my work at the New York City Fire Dept. Museum in Manhattan’s Soho district.
There I met firefighters who told me first-hand of the many acts of bravery that they completed during that time. At the exhibition Regina Wilson, the first woman President of the Vulcan Society (a fraternal organisation for black firefighters in the FDNY) introduced me to an older lady – Pearl Maynard. I immediately recognised her from the video I had watched all those years ago as the mother of Keithroy. As we hugged each other, we both wept and it was an honour to show her the painting I had done of her son.
The deep emotional connection I have developed with these unbelievably brave men and women encouraged me to produce a portfolio of work, exhibited in the New York City Fire Museum and at my own gallery in New York. The paintings include a moving tribute at Ground Zero, a scene highlighting dedication and teamwork displayed by the Fire House crews, and portraits recognising the contribution of men and women of colour to the Fire Dept.
That fateful day remains with many of us, but I hope my artwork can help us see beyond the sadness to the amazing human spirit that arose for the ashes.”
About the artist:
From an early age in the Ayrshire mining village of Springside in Scotland , Alexander Millar viewed his surroundings and the people he grew up with as if they were a carefully choreographed street ballet: old men on bikes coming home from a hard day’s graft, the gossiping women standing on the street corner or the workers staggering home after a payday night on the town.
The quirks and everyday wonders of the west of Scotland and the north of England, have been uniquely captured through his oil paintings and drawings, resonating particularly with those who grew up in the UK’s post-war landscape. His impressionist brush strokes and tones create a romantic view of that era, often playing with the effect of light as it is reflected on wet tiled roofs or cobbles, transporting the viewer back to the townscapes of their own childhood.
His signatures ‘gadgies’ – work weary uncles, fathers and grandfathers in flat caps who manage to retain a spirit of humour and a love of life, can be also be seen transformed and returned to an earlier ‘Peaky Blinders’ era in the Youth and Young Manhood works, when they had broader shoulders, sharper profiles and a style and a swagger influenced by their silver screen idols.
Alexander’s work has ventured into new genres, capturing the heroism of the New York firemen and firewomen – a collaboration that led to a major museum exhibition in New York in 2018.
Recent work sees his ‘gadgies’ embrace more leisurely pursuits in the Fairway to Heaven collection. This collection, inspired by Alex’s love of golf and previewed at the prestigious Loch Lomond Golf Club, is available to fans, old and new, as a collection of originals, drawings and limited-edition prints.
His portfolio is displayed in his dedicated exhibition spaces in Glasgow and Newcastle upon Tyne – cities where the artist has already had highly successful museum exhibitions. The popularity of his work can partly be attributed to his depiction of everyday characters, blue-collar workers and the brooding, romantic industrial landscapes.
His originals are increasingly becoming viewed as investment art, with recent sales for original oil paintings reaching over £100,000. Alexander’s public art is also displayed around the UK, including the Angel sculpture at the Metrocentre in Gateshead – a tongue in cheek tribute to Angel of the North.
He has also raised thousands for charities including Children in Need, Teenage Cancer Trust and Robin House at Loch Lomond (CHAS).