Late Bloomer: Robert Mileham

I find one the most lamentable things about the dominance of capitalism is that it demands, of our most talented artists and other modern day prophets, a pursuit of money to survive. So, in many cases, great artists can only take up their craft later in life—when they have attained a modicum of financial security.

Robert Mileham (born 1950) demonstrated skill at drawing in his youth but was not encouraged to pursue it as a career. Instead, he went into the army—like his father and brother before him—followed by some time in business. Only in the last ten years, 8 years in earnest, did he pursue his interest in sculpting.

“Why do I sculpt? I simply love it. I just have to ‘recreate’ life as I see it. I caught sculpture at a turning point in my life. It was infectious, demanding, selfish, totally compulsive…it is more than an image…It has the advantage of presence.”

He took up sculpture in the conventional way, through life classes, but is largely self-taught. Much of his work is commissioned in bronze, “a wonderfully versatile medium”. It’s advantage over marble is in the way it renders a greater spectrum of color and crispness of detail. He has recently taken an interest in Terra Cotta after a commissioned portrait bust gave him the opportunity to reinvent this medium. More than half his work takes human form and he credits his grandfather, Harry R. Mileham (1873-1957)—with his extensive use of the human form and classical training—as his earliest influence.

“…I have grown to love the human body as a subject. The hands, feet and especially the face, are the most exciting to sculpt. For me, feet depict tension and sensuality; hands reveal age and beauty but a face can conceal and reveal life, spirit and personality.”

Apart from his love of the human form, he is quite taken by Springer and Cocker Spaniels and sculpts them frequently. He grew up with them and admires their quick-wittedness and energy. He enjoys sculpting other animals as well but is always drawn back to Spaniels. The following piece illustrates both his love for these breeds and his commitment to involving and encouraging children. This was created specifically for the Countryside Exhibition in 2007.

Robert Mileham - A Team (2007)

Robert Mileham – A Team (2007)

Perhaps Mileham’s most compelling early piece was a commission for a young girl. It was to stand in a yard that was once a Hampshire workhouse between 1791 and 1834. The current property owner wanted a statue to commemorate this as a kind of daily reminder, but did not want it to be too depressing. Although the artist could perhaps be accused of sentimentality, he explains that he wanted to produce a sculpture depicting how these workers might have preferred to be remembered—not as they really were. The figure is lean and ragged, but expresses a wish to make the best of things with a smile. Records of the clothing worn in such places in this period are non-existent, so Mileham chose a Gainsborough’s painting of a little cottage girl with puppy as a model. A second version, Big Sister, of the same edition has clothing made of cloth with her foot on a ball. This piece has since inspired at least two new commissions.

Robert Mileham - Waif (2002)

Robert Mileham – Waif (2002)

Robert Mileham - Waif (Big Sister) (2002)

Robert Mileham – Waif (Big Sister) (2002)

The next work has a very personal meaning for the artist. It was made for a family who lost their ten-year-old daughter to leukemia. The family broke up in a divorce before it was completed so “she” was left in a corner for nearly two years. Mileham’s own son and aunt died in childhood so when The Nicholas Wylde competition “Heavenly Bodies” in The William Herschel Museum was announced, he finished the work and dedicated it to all children who died young. This intense piece was meant to express the exhilaration of life.

Robert Mileham - Ice Breaker (2005) (1)

Robert Mileham – Ice Breaker (2005) (1)

Robert Mileham - Ice Breaker (2005) (2)

Robert Mileham – Ice Breaker (2005) (2)

One of his most popular figures is a nude young girl entitled Anne of Buckinghamshire. This commission was for a specific place on the banks of a tributary of The Thames in a garden which has a connection to Anne Boleyn so hence the name. A retired couple had seen Waif in Hampshire and wanted a sculpture in their garden. These images are in the original clay.

Robert Mileham - Anne of Buckinghamshire (2013) (1)

Robert Mileham – Anne of Buckinghamshire (2013) (1)

Robert Mileham - Anne of Buckinghamshire (2013) (2)

Robert Mileham – Anne of Buckinghamshire (2013) (2)

An interesting trend that keeps cropping up in my work on this site is how so many women purchase artwork of children, even nude children. Mileham says that 75% of the buyers of his child and nude sculptures have been women. There is still something about our culture’s portrayal of masculinity that compels most men to react with anxiety and hostility to images of lovely girl children in a tender or intimate context.

Mileham’s work is in private collections around the world. He continues to work in the countryside, using an old tack room as a studio, surrounded by horses, dogs, cats and abundant wildlife. His blog, Dorset Sculpture, offers an excellent insight into the artistic process, the admirable work of other artists and very English poetic impressions of the countryside.

My research on this artist kept reminding me of another, Charles Summers. He does not paint figures and so could not be justifiably posted on this site. He admired the work of Taylor and Constable since he was young, ran a bookstore with his wife and only painted in earnest when he retired. His work has also received wide acclaim all over the world and is another fine example of a kind of revival of representative fine art.

Robert Mileham (official website where you can see more views of these and many other sculptures)