Nationally known artist Nancy Tokar Miller, whose oversized canvases are awash with deconstructed images, dreamy colors and bold strokes, died Tuesday in Tucson after a decade-long battle with cancer. She was 72.
Her works are in museums and collections around the country.
“She was a master in color and (breaking) things down to the essence,” said David Andres, a longtime friend and manager of the Louis Carlos Bernal Gallery at Pima Community College’s West Campus. The gallery mounted a show of her work in early 2012.
Tokar Miller grew up in California’s San Fernando Valley and studied art at UCLA, where she and her husband of nearly 50 years, Walter, met. The couple moved to Tucson in 1968, and she received her master’s from the University of Arizona in 1971.
Though she occasionally taught, her passions were tending to the brilliant orchids in her greenhouse, and, especially, creating art in her sun-filled studio behind her midtown home.
“She lived for art; she loved art in all ways, shapes and forms,” said Walter Miller, a retired UA chemistry professor. “She was fighting cancer to the end; she wanted to get back to art.”
“When she wasn’t painting, she was thinking about painting,” said Terry Etherton of Etherton Gallery, which has had major exhibits of Tokar Miller’s work about every two years since 1988.
Tokar Miller’s paintings were inspired by her extensive travels to such places as Thailand, Japan and Europe.
“When she took a trip, she came back not with snapshots, but with understanding,” Andres said.
“I paint anything that strikes me as particularly wonderful,” Tokar Miller said in a 2010 interview with Arizona Public Media.
Tokar Miller called her work abstract landscapes. Soft color washes and bold strokes of rich colors defined her acrylic paintings, which gave hints of the inspiration — a body of water, a flower, bird, kimono. While you may not see a bird, or a pool, in the work, there is a deep sense that the soul of the inspiration is captured on her canvases. The results are paintings that invite you in for long, intimate and meditative conversations.
“Nancy’s work is just beautiful in a very Zen kind of way,” said fellow artist Gail Marcus-Orlen.
“Her process is very quiet and thoughtful and slow. One brush stroke will tell you everything.”
“She was one of the best painters in this area, or anywhere, for that matter,” said Etherton. “I never asked Nancy what the next show would be like; I just knew it would be great.”
The paintings inspired by her travels in turn inspired Etherton. “It was almost as though I had been on those trips and shared them with her,” he said.
Though Tokar Miller lived for her art, it was not to the exclusion of others, Etherton added. “She was ultra-supportive of the other artists in this town,” he said. “She was really considerate. There’s not going to be another like her.”
Though services are expected, they have not yet been planned.