My family first moved to the Chicago area in 1978 when I was 5. Our new hometown, La Grange Park, was showing its age in cracking plaster and overgrown yards. I called my childhood home 'the big yellow house'. Large trees turned the blocks into shadowy tunnels, with wooden farmhouse and foursquare style houses lining the streets. La Grange had a large town hall which could be mistaken for a County Courthouse, and an old theater showing second run movies. Summers were spent in a sand box, backyard pool, and riding a big wheel around the school yard. During winter I built with Legos and created scenes from Star Wars with action figures.
Junior High and High School brought a new group of friends who lived further away. We played Dungeon and Dragons, video games, and rode bikes and skate boards. Later the bikes were replaced with cars, and the games with jobs and sports.
For College I went downstate to the University of Illinois, where my major was architecture. Living in central Illinois was a very good experience, which went on for 6 and half years. I took advantage of some European travel, spending the entire summers of 1990 and 1992 in Europe, then the school year from 1993-94. I received a work permit and spent the summer of 1997 in Ireland, before finishing graduate school.
Returning to Chicago after graduation I decided to take up painting. I had recently found inspiration from painters that did not appear in the usual Chicago Museums or art classes. I was a self starter and learned the airbrush with India ink. A year later I moved to Portland, Oregon. I had never been to the Northwest before and it seemed far off and mysterious. Seattle was larger and more well known but I chose Portland after a long weekend visit. My girlfriend and I were married and we lived in Portland for 3 years. I worked the first year in architecture, but became disgruntled with the lack of creativity in the usual bread-and-butter projects.
I made the move to digital graphics and the newly emerging Internet field. Companies were hiring anyone, since the field was new and no one had experience. The vibe was different here, the people were younger and more excited about the future. The technology was cutting edge and the thrill of the new filled the air. Back at home I traveled the Northwest on weekends, and when I wasn't painting I played adventure and fantasy computer games at night. Oregon was diverse for an outdoor explorer- temperate rain forest, high desert, mountains, rivers, and ocean shoreline.
The Northwest is chilly with a cold grayness most of the year. I missed the sun, so we arranged a job transfer down to the San Francisco Bay area. We settled into San Leandro, near Oakland. The neighborhood was picture perfect colorful plaster houses. The perfect weather of the East Bay meant it never froze, and the sun was always out. The price for perfection was the high cost of housing, and when abrupt job changes came, we looked around and decided to transfer out. The company moved us again, this time to Boise, Idaho.
Boise had many advantages. In the high desert it rarely rained and the sun shown till 10pm in the summer. Housing and lifestyle was cheap compared to the West Coast. The surrounding area was an mountain biking paradise. Our house was in walking distance to downtown. When our first daughter was born I became a stay-at-home parent for 1 year.
My paintings in Boise had changed to oil on canvas or panel. My subjects were surreal and whimsical buildings and landscapes. In Boise I had my first financial success with art, selling prints from a booth at a farmers market, and a few paintings at a local gallery and an art fair.
After my year off I returned to work in digital graphics, but needed a larger job market, so we moved to Chicago after 8 years in the West. Over the Thanksgiving weekend we drove back through Idaho, Wyoming, the plains, and finally snow covered Illinois. I found work in the field of e-commerce close to our new house, a Chicago style brick bungalow with a full basement, which I turned into a painting studio.
I currently sell my work in Midwest area art fairs and art galleries. Besides painting my hobbies include photography, mountain biking, and traveling to inspiring destinations, usually desolate and extreme, and always visually exciting.
All Images © Justin D. Miller 2017