ABOUT THE ARTIST
I am Reuben Miller. I grew up in South Africa, and later lived in Israel, the UK, and New York. I currently reside in Lakewood, New Jersey with my wife and children.
Thelma Yellin High School, Tel Aviv
University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
Yeshiva Ohr Someyach, New York
COVID changed everything.
I started to think about my own mortality. It was a time of significant self-reflection. I contemplated what I was doing. I was running a successful design agency with my wife. I was raising healthy children in a tumultuous world. Yet, I had this sense of absence, some lack nagging at me silently.
I thought a lot about my accomplishments, my fears, my dreams, and my missed opportunities. I realized too much of my life was made up of decisions based on fears.
I wanted to make a change.
My wife Yael is very much in tune with who I am. For years, she tried encouraging me to utilize my creative abilities. Not necessarily for financial gain or business, but as a way of tapping into my creative side.
Over the years I dabbled in all sorts of creative ventures. Whether it was woodworking, painted wooden toys, silkscreening, stenciled typographic decor, jewelry making, soft toys for kids... and the list went on. All of these creative endeavors had two things in common: 1) They were hobbies, and therefore secondary to the design business and family life; 2) they didn't fill the void. They didn't tap the creative wellspring that, decades before, I had buried deep inside myself.
This is how COVID helped me, as ironic as that sounds. I was forced to confront the possibility of my death. But while my physical death was a mere possibility, I realized that I was actively dying on the inside, a creative death.
One Saturday evening, after sundown, Yael and I went to a local coffee shop to talk and hang out. We like to do this every now and then - get out of the house and go on a date. That night, Yael asked me a pivotal question, "If you could do anything you wanted, what would it be?"
It was so clear to me suddenly at that moment, "Art." I said simply.
"So then that’s what you have to do," she replied. And with that, my wife gave me the greatest gift possible. Don't think she wasn't scared; she was scared and she had good reason to be scared. But, despite her fears, she chose, at that moment, to give me the gift of life.
THE BACKDROP, CHILDHOOD IN SOUTH AFRICA
My life had always been filled with art. It was a source of pride, but also pain.
I was born in a small town called Potchefstroom, located an hour southwest of Johannesburg, South Africa. My family was part of the small Jewish community there. Potchefstroom (affectionately known as "Potch") was a farming town. It was physically large enough to, maybe, be called a city, but small in mindset. Folks here were mostly Afrikaners (descendants of 17th-century Dutch settlers) living a simple life, going to church every Sunday. This was a place where most kids didn’t even wear shoes to school, not necessarily because they were poor - it just wasn’t a thing. My school was the only English-speaking school in the town, and had a dress code that did include "wearing shoes."
When I was about 8 years old, my parents sent me to study by the renowned local artist Barend Grobbelaar. I would meet up with a dozen other creative youngsters at Mr. Grobelaar’s studio behind his house. It was there that I learned a lot of the fundamentals of art theory, including the relationship colors have with one another. We created color wheels, learned how to clean brushes, how to apply paint in various techniques, as well as perspective, proportion, light, and shade, etc. I ate it all up. I was enthralled with this new world.
THE ROLLERCOASTER, MY YEARS IN ISRAEL
In 1987, my parents took the family to Israel and made aliyah. It was there that I flourished creatively. My parents enrolled me at the Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts, a secondary school, in the Givatayim neighborhood of Tel Aviv, of world renown among artists.
Thelma Yellin was the place of my dreams. I loved art. Here was a school that was all about art. I also built good friendships with like-minded kids who were into the same kinds of things I was. I was truly able to explore my artistic abilities.
All was well, except for the fact that the instruction was in Hebrew and I had a terrible grasp of the language. This proved to be a fatal flaw.
After two years, the principal called me in to tell me the news: I could no longer remain in the school. Although he praised me for unusually high creative ability and high grades in math and science, I could not remain in the school because I was failing everything else due to the language barrier.
My heart dropped that day. I died inside. I fell into a deep depression. I never quite got over this period in my life – not fully – although, somehow, I moved on by putting art in a deep, sealed box that I did not touch for a very long time.
WE RETURN TO SOUTH AFRICA ON SHATTERED DREAMS
In 1990, my parents made the decision to return to South Africa, in spite of their ardent dreams of living in Israel. It just didn't work out for the long term. Upon our return, I finished high school in Johannesburg and went on to the University of the Witwatersrand (aka "Wits") to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Building. For two years, following school, I worked in construction and in real estate development in Johannesburg and in London.
But there was more.
One day, I got dragged into a guest lecture at Wits by Dr. Gerald Schroeder. It was a class on Genesis and the Big Bang. It was a revelation. This was the first time I had heard someone correlate Biblical text with scientific hypotheses. Religion until then had played no part in my life except for bits of Shabbat and the High Holidays. I'd go to shul Friday night, drive back to my parent's house for Friday night dinner and then head off to Club 206 on Louis Botha Avenue to DJ in the Chill Lounge. Shabbat was not a spiritual day - it was a great day to hit the malls and meet friends at the outdoor plaza restaurants.
TRUTH OR DARE, TORAH BECOMES A CENTERPIECE OF MY LIFE
Becoming religious was a slow process for me, but eventually, I became what is known as a "ba'al teshuva" (a Jew who takes on the observance of Torah law although he/she did not grow up that way). The journey took me to yeshiva (Ohr Somayach in Monsey, New York), where I was fortunate to discover the beauty and depth of the Talmud, which greatly enriched my life. There was a part of me that felt fulfilled, but my love for art and my unmet need for creative expression did not go away.
I MEET YAEL, OUR FAMILY GROWS
In 2002 my rabbi and mentor, suggested I meet Yael. We were set up on a blind date. At the time all I was told about her beforehand was that she was a "smart, pretty, and talented graphic designer from Lakewood, New Jersey." Of course, she was – and is — so much more than that. Six months later, Yael and I got married.
In 2005, with our first child already born and expecting our second, we moved from New York to Lakewood. Yael continued to work as a graphic designer and I continued to work in real estate development. In 2007, Yael left her corporate job and started freelancing, creating branding and packaging designs for her own clients. I was still working full-time in the dog-eat-dog real estate development industry while helping Yael's newly formed company by taking care of contractual and financial matters. Eventually, I left real estate development as the design business grew, and we formed Miller Creative. In 2011, a year after we bought our first home, we hired our first employee for the design business.
By 2015, we had eight people on the payroll. It was a thriving business, but my role in the business remained strictly business-like. It did nothing for my neglected creative core.
Still, as noted above, I tried my hand at all sorts of creative ventures over the ensuing years. By 2020, I had built a fantastic woodworking shop, a workspace with 3D printers, an overflowing vegetable garden, and all the landscaping surrounding the house. I had endless creative hobbies. I tried my hand at so many hobbies and excelled at most of them, but they were just that: hobbies. I could never give them my all since they remained secondary to the full-time work of the design business and to care for my growing family.
FAST FORWARD, BACK TO THE COFFEE SHOP
Fast-forward to where we left off at the coffee shop where Yael pointedly asked me what it was I wanted to DO. She didn't know how I would answer, but she had the conviction to know that whatever it was I'd make up my mind to do, she would get behind it 100%.
A new vista opened up before me. It seemed almost unreal, but it was simply the right time. As the weeks rolled into months, I was getting more accustomed to the new (sometimes grueling) schedule. I reduced my work hours at the design agency and was instead clocking 40+ hours of painting per week. I was developing a new artistic process and technique. I knew the beginning would be tough, so I was ready for the long hours and the inevitable mishaps.
This is my story. The past twelve months have culminated into a major turning point in my life. I developed a technique that weaves a synergy—connecting the multiple life experiences I’ve been through—that has yielded a style and approach that could have only come into being at this precise point in time. I might be in my 40’s, but this is just the beginning.
Thank you for reading.