A Conversation with Donny Miller (No Relation)

By Matthew Miller, All images by Donny Miller

Charming raconteur, MMA enthusiast, and globally-recognized art hero Donny Miller is truly an artist unlike any other. His distinctive styles are often mimicked — barely a week goes by in which I don’t spot blatant ripoffs online, in fact — but the wit and verve behind his bold and colorful pieces is utterly unique.

How did you get started?

I’ve always made art, since I was little. My first art job was at a screen printer. They made the weirdest shirts of skeletons skateboarding. They were awful, but I’m sure hipsters would wear them now, for sure. One of them was a skateboarding skeleton doing a hand plant on a ramp with a daisy in his mouth. It was called “Pushin’ Daisies.”

I think I’d like to do a set of boards for a skateboard company with those kinds of ridiculous graphics. I didn’t do any art for them. They were Deadheads. Lots of pot smoking that went on there. Pizza and beer. It was fun. I wish I had those shirts, though. Awesome poser shirts. I’m still friends with a lot of the guys from there. There was this kid that worked next door at the tie dye place and made pot pipes and jewelry out of stone. I remember he’d always say, “Thith ith Minnathota pipe thtone.” I losth touch with him.


During the height of the Occupy Wall Street protests, Donny showed me a new piece he made: a mask with the face of Martin Luther King, Jr. on it. Could you imagine if a photographer were to catch a shot of someone wearing that and being sprayed with mace during a protest?


Have recent political movements, such as the Tea Party and Occupy movement, affected your art?

They have some influence. It’s comforting knowing there are others who feel the way I do. That’s one good thing about the movement[s]. But I already had that [activist] part of my work.


In your book, Beautiful People with Beautiful Feelings, you use a lot of humor about some very serious things. How does humor inform your art?

It’s just part of my personality. I have one of those personalities where something really bad will happen, I mean really bad, and I always find the zinger in it. I don’t say them out loud like I did when I was young, but I always have that in my head. It’s a curse.


How has parenthood changed your approach to art?

It’s great. I wake up looking at this person who I am going to shape into an adult and I love it. It hasn’t changed anything except that I’m painting now. I haven’t painted in a long time, but now I feel there’s something really worthy in painting and being interested in painting again.


How do you feel about having your work appropriated and then not credited, and what should be done about people and website who engage in those practices?

I don’t really care. People who know, know. I have defenders out there who always send me something. It’s nice.


Tell me about some upcoming projects you are working on.

I’m always working on a few things. Right now, I’m going to be speaking at a college in Denver, and I’ve been crafting the lecture. I really want to give the kids a head start. There are so many people who go out in to the world unprepared and get taken advantage of by people. It sucks, but that’s reality.

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For more on Donny Miller, visit his website or his parenting blog, Tough Guy Cry Baby.

Matthew Teague Miller currently lives in San Pedro, CA, with his daughter. He has been writing for fun and for pay for over 20 years. When he isn’t reading and writing, he enjoys hanging out with his kid, yoga and hiking. He is working on his third children’s book, and has a cook book in the works too.

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