Julian Miller grew up surrounded by art — truly. As the son of Josh and Kim Miller, owners of Ocean Galleries in Avalon and Stone Harbor, Julian could often be found on non-school days within the walls of these two showplaces, blond curls bouncing as he scampered about, skateboard in his arms, taking great care to not bump it into any precious artwork.
Powerful images loaded with vibrant color by artists such as Howard Behrens, Sam Park and the iconic Peter Max were most likely imbued into his subconscious, for when it came time for university, Miller chose Flagler College in St. Augustine, where he became a Fine Art major.
Now at age 26, he’s back home in Avalon, working full-time in the gallery’s framing department.
Anyone living year-round at the Jersey Shore knows that it can be quiet, to say the least, in the off-season. It was Miller’s ennui during the year’s colder months that prompted him to create his “Miniart,” a fun, Geocaching-like, street art initiative, that began in the frame shop.
“I was messing around … and I developed a small frame. I joked and said I created the smallest frame in the world,” Miller says. “From that I took colored pencils and drew in them. From there I wanted push it one step further. I wanted to hide them — to make them a form of street art.”
Here’s how Miniart works: Miller shoots a picture of a 1.5” X 1.5” Miniartwork with a specific — and recognizable — South Jersey location in the background as a hint on where it can be found. He then posts that photo on his Instagram account, along with a few other hints — “where the street meets the sand,” “face the ocean,” “look high/low” and more.
“There’s only so much you can do (in the off-season) — if you’ve been somewhere once, you’ve been a thousand times. What I want is for people to go and explore this beautiful area that we live in. It caught on immediately — people have been wanting to go out and explore and find my art.
“I’ve had people find in them 15 minutes, but what fun is that? So now I don’t give it away,” he says. “(But) I’ve also had someone who said he looked for two hours and told me that was crazy, but I say at least you were outside being active. It’s better than being inside watching television. That’s my thought.”
The idea mostly stemmed from a documentary Miller saw.
“I was watching a street art documentary ... on graffiti art which was considered vandalism,” Miller recalls. “I thought it was cool, but I wanted to do something positive, to give people an opportunity to take something away … instead of just seeing it, they could take my art home instead.”
Since starting the Miniart project in 2015, Miller’s images have become more sophisticated, essentially going from quick sketches to more fine art pieces. The Miniart that people find, however, are not Miller’s originals, but giclee reproductions. The framing for each is unique, though, as no two combinations are being replicated.
An avid traveler, Miller has quite literally left his mark in the form of his Miniart in a myriad of locations around the world, hiding more than 100 of them in various spots from Panama, Ireland and Australia to California, Florida, Utah and the Southwest.
Miniart feedback has only been positive and Miller has accrued quite a fan base.
“Within a three week period I added more than 300 followers to my Instagram account. People kept expecting me to do these posts on when was I going to go hide one again,” marvels Miller, who now hides one in Cape May County every Sunday. “It’s just a fun thing that evolved out of nothing.”
For Miller, it’s not about fame or money. It’s about spreading happiness, as well as giving people the chance to seek out the beauty in their own backyards, whether in the form of Miniart or in Mother Nature.
“It’s not really about that (money or fame). It’s about me doing something nice for someone. I just like doing it and getting people outside exploring,” Miller explains. “I want everyone to know about Miniart so they can go out and enjoy the outdoors with their kids or boyfriends or girlfriends.”
Of course, there is one thing that Miller hopes to receive from all of his efforts: new friends.
“I put a message on the back (of my Miniart). And I do get lucky and get, for example, an email from someone in West Virginia or some place.
“It’s just really cool. It’s cool to connect with new people who enjoy the adventure — and art.”