THROUGH THE KEYHOLE: Inside the home of Torrington artist Shan Miller
YOU will always find her in the kitchen at parties. And the rest of the week? Quite probably in the kitchen as well.
It's the heart of her home. Not in the conventional sense. You're unlikely to encounter the domestic vision of freshly iced cupcakes or the aroma of warm bread wafting from her paint-splashed oven.
Yet it's here that artist Shan Miller will sit at a tiny wooden table amid her joyous jumble of personal paraphernalia, and paint her stupendously large and much-loved pictures and portraits.
"This is where people will find me, always at my little table surrounded by clutter," she says. "My home is a safe little dusty haven full of things."
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An alchemy certainly takes place in this kitchen but it's not of the traditional culinary kind.
The intimate, familiar space is where ideas transform into art, the crazy clutter working as a catalyst.
"My mother will sometimes say, 'let me get at the kitchen, let me paint the walls'," she says. "But I always think, 'No, all this graffiti was from parties from about 20 years ago. It's all evidence of a good time'. It's my inspiration."
As an artist, Shan's aware of not getting stuck in a comfort zone, yet she could never conceive of moving house.
"If I ever did I would still have to have access to this kitchen," she laughs.
The whole of her Torrington home overflows with a goulash of textures, colours and crazy, quirky and exotic things she has picked up in markets or collected on travels. It feeds into a non-stop creativity.
"The worst thing for me would be minimal decor," she says. "I feel uncomfortable with it. Anything that's not cluttered, like this, to me feels like a hospital waiting room."
She admits to the occasional clash with friends when she's given unwanted suggestions on how they might colour up their life.
"For me it's about being larger than life, that's why I started to paint big. It's all about making whatever you've got larger than ever.
"People tend to worry if they are going too far or if they are getting too big for themselves. My attitude is you are never big enough. You've just got to keep pushing those boundaries."
Her attic room would be every dreamy little girl's magical dressing up parlour. There are theatrical and vintage clothes shoes, feathers, boas, hats; all glittery, vibrant and showy, in a fabulous jumble beneath the rafters.
Shan can find herself sitting for hours customising vintage outfits for actors, dancers or anyone who wants help with styling. She's currently refashioning a set of retro hats for a troupe of burlesque dancers from South Devon.
The artist, whose life-sized and life-like portraits of people and animals are immensely popular, doesn't own a TV. Quite frankly she wouldn't have time to watch it. When she's not painting, customising costumes, styling performers for videos, dancing at festivals with the band LionStar or life modelling, she can be found at Faux Arts, an alternative gallery she set up in an 18th century grain mill, which also houses a leper museum.
"As a kid I was always on my own and always making things, pulling things apart and putting it back together again. I have never been bored. Ever. It's not possible for me. I don't think you can be if you are thoroughly curious about things."
Shan's home is fascinating and gloriously fun. From risqué paintings and a black crow perching ominously on the mantelpiece (left over from the Christmas decorations) to safari animals adorning the banisters, there's nothing too earnest about it.
So how would she describe her decorating style?
"Apart from the usual eclectic? Insane probably," she laughs.