Florida lawyer turned artist featured at the Met
'Law school, it’s an education that you can apply anywhere. So, I bring that same professionalism into my art practice'
The law of conservation holds that energy is neither created nor destroyed — only transferred from one form to another.
Florida lawyer turned artist Julie Miller Torres is a good example.
When she transferred her energy from the practice of law to print making, but preserved a legal framework, it dazzled curators at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.
“Super Diva,” her tribute to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, was recently added to the Met’s permanent print collection, and is featured prominently in the new exhibit, “Revolution, Resistance and Activism.”
“It’s been quite a week,” she says with a laugh. “I guess it adds something to your resume.”
The exhibit opened July 29 and runs through January 17, 2022.
The museum’s print collection includes more than 1 million pieces dating back to 1400. They are exhibited on short rotations to protect them from fading.
“There are names in that collection that we learned about in art school,” Miller Torres said. “I’m having a moment, I’m very aware of that.”
The museum website refers to the new exhibit as a “grouping.”
“The drawings, prints and posters on view relate to the American, French, Haitian, Mexican, and Russian revolutions, the abolition of slavery, and campaigns for and against the dominant political systems of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries,” the website states. “As this grouping demonstrates, artists have turned to printmaking, in particular, to call attention to racial, gender, and economic injustices.”
Miller Torres’ tribute to Justice Ginsburg, who died September 18, 2020, seemed natural.
It features quotes from landmark decisions and public speeches, including the words, “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
Miller Torres said she has long admired Justice Ginsburg’s strength and tolerance.
“Her incredible intellect and grace, her collegiality, her dignity and resolve,” Miller Torres said. “Not too long ago, I brought up the friendship she had with Justice Scalia. What an example of how we can have differences of opinion and talk about it in constructive ways.”
Miller Torres said that when she was an attorney, she considered Justice Ginsburg a role model. Miller Torres’ admiration only grew after she began researching a series of portraits.
Leaning on her legal training, Miller Torres leaves few stones unturned.
Reading the landmark decision, Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Inc., inspired Miller Torres to gather data from the U.S. Department of Labor related to median annual incomes and the respective gender wage gap in all 50 states.
Since becoming an artist full time, Miller Torres has allowed her bar memberships in Florida and New York to become inactive. But she still gravitates to the U.S. Supreme Court website to digest the latest opinions.
“I do have a passion for the law that’s never left, and it’s really joyful to bring that knowledge into the work that I’m doing, and that’s why Justice Ginsberg was such a natural fit,” she said.
Art was a passion for Miller Torres from an early age. But frightened by the notion of “starving artist,” she chose to follow in her late father’s footsteps.
Miller Torres was born in Boise, Idaho, and moved to Tallahassee as a toddler when her interior designer mother, Susanne Miller, enrolled in Florida State University. Her father, the former Wilton Miller, was a 50-year Florida Bar member and founder of the Bryant, Miller & Olive, a prominent Tallahassee firm.
“It was a profession that was familiar to me, and there were many aspects of the law that drew me to it,” she said. “I saw with my father that no day was ever really the same, and his interaction with so many different kinds of people, and through the law, you can have so many positive impacts.”
After earning a J.D. from the University of Florida in 2005, and an ML from the University of Miami in 2008, Miller Torres spent five years with Smith, Gambrell & Russell in Jacksonville, where she enjoyed the work.
But after the loss of her father, Miller Torres began thinking about her passion for art and the “finality” of life.
“I had the most amazing senior partner there and we did a lot of work for Norfolk Southern, who was just an amazing client,” she said. “So, things were good, but it was like a calling, and I knew that the longer I waited, the harder it was going to be to leave.”
Miller Torres enrolled in the Savannah College of Fine Art and Design, or SCAD, in the Atlanta campus, and earned a BFA in 2016.
Starting over as an undergraduate wasn’t easy, Miller Torres said, but she was determined to make it. Her father didn’t live to see the transition, but she says her mother and grandmother were encouraging when it meant the most.
“My grandmother actually said, ‘It’s about time,’ and my mom helped to do everything she could to support me,” Miller Torres said. “I had a fire in my belly when I came out of art school, it was like, look, I’ve given up this career and I’ve got to make it.”
In 2017, Miller Torres met her artist husband, Alexi Torres, and they were soon married. The two are represented by Maune Contemporary, an Atlanta gallery.
Miller Torres says she didn’t consider herself an “established” artist until 2019, when she completed woven prints of Justice Ginsburg that started getting snapped up by collectors at a Miami art show. She was scheduled to show in Palm Beach, when COVID-19 struck, and the art world suddenly went dark.
Everything seemed bleak, Miller Torres said.
“Right as I’m finding success, the art fairs are cancelled, the galleries are having to close, there’s no more openings,” she said.
Rather than give in to despair, or try to wait out the pandemic, Miller Torres went back to basics. She produced regular prints that could be sold at a lower price point online.
A New York collector saw “Super Diva” on Instagram and bought it, then took it to a friend who had connections with the Met for help with framing. When the museum expressed an interest in adding the print to its collection, Miller Torres was given an option of selling or donating.
Waiting for the sale to be negotiated, however, would risk missing a chance that it would be shown in the upcoming exhibit, Miller Torres was told.
“I was like, are you kidding?” Miller Torres said. “I will happily donate this.”
Two days before the exhibit was scheduled to open, Miller Torres received an email notifying her of the good news.
Since then, her sales have been brisk, and she has been invited to show her work in the Hamptons.
These days, Miller Torres said, most of her work is done for galleries, shows, and commissions. But in the beginning, she was given work by corporate clients after previous artists had failed to meet deadlines. The discipline she learned in law school and her legal practice has given her an edge over other artists, she said.
“Law school, it’s an education that you can apply anywhere,” she said. “So, I bring that same professionalism into my art practice.”