In the latest of our series Keith Newman of Highlights PR talks to contemporary artist...Alexander Millar about his route into art, his trademark "Gadgie" and his galleries in major cities in the UK and USA.
How did you get into art?
It was later in life; I had a job I hated on a building site and later I became a window cleaner. Some 30 years later, I went through a marriage break up and my mental health suffered. I was living in my car as I was homeless, when I met a lovely old lady who taught me to believe in myself. She taught me meditation and within weeks opportunities with my artwork started to come my way. The biggest thing at that time was an exhibition I did in Glasgow that sold out within hours. I’ve never looked back since.
Tell me about “The Gadgie”.
The Gadgie has such an appeal because everyone had one in their family they can relate to. When I first started painting him, I used to imagine my dad walking away from me into the light and I suppose this back view means that it could be anybody so that everyone can imagine the character is someone personal to them.
The anonymity seems to appeal to people more than a facial view as the Gadgie becomes my customers own relative, their mum, dad, grannies, and grandpas. Subconsciously, I’ve painted him from the perspective of the viewer being a child looking at him from their point of view.
He’s a popular chap and he’s been sold all over the world to collectors and fans alike. It’s amazing to think that he started off as a small figure in the background of my paintings and one day I decided to highlight him, and the Gadgie was born.
My portrayal of the Gadgie has evolved from a dark and grey silhouette to a more colourful, happier character with a spring in his step. I’ve come to realise this represents the time I was in a depressive state and now as my own life is more colourful, then so is the Gadgie.
Tell us about your UK galleries.
I prefer to sell my work through my own galleries and online wherever possible as it makes my work more personal. I love chatting to visitors who pop in and it’s really not all about selling. It’s about building a relationship, providing excellent customer service, and engaging with my customers.
My first gallery was opened in Glasgow some four years ago after we had successfully trialled a number of pop-up shops. Since then, we’ve moved to a lovely location on Buchanan Street which I visit as often as I can.
Living in Newcastle, I’m so pleased that I’ve opened a gallery on one the UK’s most beautiful and magnificent streets – Grey Street. I’m right opposite the iconic Theatre Royal and I love watching the Geordie people come and go.
You previously opened a gallery in New York City too?
I did a museum show at the New York Fire Department Museum and when I was there, we hired a fantastic space on Fifth Avenue that had once been an old Speakeasy club. Lots of people visited us and it was an amazing feeling to have a gallery space on such a prestigious street. It even came with accommodation so my whole team stayed there with me. We had that gallery for two years until COVID came along. Ultimately, I would like to open a third gallery in either Birmingham or London.
What’s next on the agenda?
We do a lot of sales online, but many people like to physically see the artist at work in the studio. For those that can’t get to a gallery, I need to do more videoing of me painting. People like to watch the formation of the painting taking place and see the textures and the ideas behind the artwork.
I’m going to be doing a few more landscapes, particularly industrial scenes. These take me back to my apprenticeship as a lad when I left school. I remember those cold winter mornings when I had to work outside and sometimes the sun would come out and just illuminate where I was working. It was so beautiful that it would take my breath away. That’s what I want to recreate and take my client’s breath away with the beauty of the art work they’ve received.
Alexander Millar Fine Art has a comprehensive collection of paintings, drawings and prints over three floors in a classic Georgian building on one of the UK’s most beautiful shopping streets. Alexander Millar Fine Art, 55 – 59 Grey Street Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 6EF