Why the male form as the subject of your collection?
I have always loved figurative pictures. The subject might have different clothes or a different hairstyle but when you look at a picture of the human form you are, in essence, looking at yourself. Being gay, inevitably my focus tends to be towards the male, rather than the female form. I also wanted to create a unique collection. There is no other gallery in the UK, which focuses solely on the male form.
What was the first piece that you obtained for the collection?
I have been collecting since I was a teenager. The first piece I bought then, was Andy Warhol’s film poster for the film Querelle. The first picture I bought to sell is a self-portrait by Edgar Holloway from 1932. It is a deeply tender self-examination of the artist. A version of the print is in National Portrait Gallery collection.
Why did you choose to exhibit in your own home?
Commercial art galleries sometimes can be a bit soulless. I bought a derelict home and as I renovated it, I realized that it would make the perfect place to exhibit my pictures. Exhibiting in my home, gives people a sense of what the artwork would look like in a domestic setting.
What drew you to a career in art history?
I have always been interested in buying and collecting art. A few years ago I took a break from my legal career and studied on the Masters Programme at Christies Education. Doing this made me consider changing careers, and shortly after finishing my studies I started putting my collection together.
Do you have any pieces that have a special place in your heart?
I have recently bought a lithograph by Erich Heckel from 1917. It depicts two sailors dancing together in dancehall surrounded by disapproving onlookers. It is wonderful simple, extremely sensitive and all the more extraordinary when you consider when it was created.
Have you noticed any trends in the way that the male form has been represented over time? From 17th century to modern day?
For me, although there have been numerous changes in styles and techniques in painting since the 17th century, the most dramatic change happened in the 20th century, as a result of the classification then gradual acceptance of homosexuality in society. Representations of the male form widened to include subtle and not so subtle homoerotic references, in many cases pushing the boundaries of what was socially acceptable. See for example Paul Cadmus in the US, and Duncan Grant in the UK.
How much of a change came to the form once photography became the principal way of capturing an image?
With the creation of photography and its ability to record visual data better than an artist could, artists began to look for other emphases in rendering reality. This led to a number of modern artistic movements such as impressionism, cubism, expressionism, surrealism etc. Depictions of the male form were freed to become more expressive and needed to be less rooted in realist depictions. I love the works of Keith Vaughan, a British artist from 40s to 70s, whose partially abstract male figures are wonderfully sensual but very far from the realism of a photograph.
Has there been any particular photographer/ artist or designer that has been key in changing the way that the male form is presented?
Such a difficult question, there are so many. Photographers include Fred Holland Day, Herbert List, George Platt-Lynes, Robert Mapplethorpe. Artists include William Etty, Paul Cadmus, John Craxton, Keith Vaughan and Michael Leonard.
Do you feel that London has a justified reputation as a major capital of the art world?
Yes. There is so much to see and experience in public exhibitions, commercial galleries and auction houses.
Are you working on anything new?
Yes, between the 28th April and 16th May at the Old Truman Brewery in Spittalfields I shall be exhibiting the work of Andre Uspenski, a former dancer with the Royal Ballet. He combines a photographer’s eye with a dancer’s understanding of movement to explore light and shadow through the dynamics of the human form. See www.levinmiller.com for details.
For those that are new to collecting art, do you have any recommendations for what they should look for when making a first purchase?
Spend as much as you can on one piece. It is better to buy one great piece a year than ten not so good pictures. If you do this, in 10 years you’ll have a wonderful collection.
Has social media been beneficial for your business?
I could not have my business without it. As I do not have a traditional gallery space, people would not know about me, were it not for social media.
And finally, for you, what makes a rakish gent?
Someone who displays their own sense of style, irrespective of current trends.
The Quick-Fire Round