Old Testament themes such as Jacob's Ladder and Noah’s Ark, and the esoteric mystical beliefs of the Kabbalah, are recurring themes in Milder’s paintings which are presented as archetypal images that recur in the basic karma, make-up and need of human nature. 
Internationally exhibited, Milder is included in the collections of many national and international museums. He has been the subject of two, recent retrospectives in Brazil in 2007 at the National Museum Brasilia and, in 2006, at the Museum of Modern Art, in Rio de Janeiro. He is renowned in Sao Paulo, one of the major international centers for street and public art, as a seminal influence on graffiti artists.
Jay Milder was born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1934. His grandparents, who came from the Ukraine, were descendants of the Hasidic mystic, Rabbi Nachman. As he listened to family stories his interest in spiritualism and mysticism increased, and became an important influence on his philosophy of life and art. Later, when he arrived in New York, he was drawn to the Theosophical Society and the teaching of Helena Blavatsky.
In 1954 Milder visited Europe where he studied painting with André L’Hote, and sculpture with Ossip Zadkine. He spent much time studying at the Louvre Museum, and at the studio of Stanley Hayter. During his Paris years the paintings of the Jewish painter Chaim Soutine, primarily influenced him.
Milder returned to the United States in 1956, and he began studying painting at the Chicago Art Institute. He exhibited with the Momentum Group, an alliance of artists who were particularly dedicated to the progression of figurative art and its global origins. In 1957, Milder spent the summer in Mexico for a summer where he exhibited in Puebla. That year he received the Mexican Government’s Honor Award for artists.
In the summer of 1958, Milder studied with Hans Hofmann in Provincetown, Massachusetts. He exhibited his work at the Sun Gallery, with his contemporaries, including Mary Frank, Red Grooms, Bob Thompson, Lester Johnson, Emilio Cruz and Alex Katz, among others. During this period his painting began to incorporate iconography of birds, animals, humans and animal/human hybrids.
In 1957, Milder and his family moved to New Dorp Beach in Staten Island in order to raise his daughters without fear of eviction. He created a studio in the abandoned concrete seaside hospital of the St. John's Guild where he could produce long paintings in its wings and host parties for friends from the city.
In 1958, Milder, Bob Thompson and Red Grooms, founded the City Gallery in the Chelsea section of New York City. The gallery moved downtown and became the Delancey Street Museum and an early site for ‘Happenings’,which Milder participated in. He showed his first major series called Subway Runners in 1964 at the Martha Jackson Gallery in New York City.
Milder began a group of smaller paintings, entitled “Messiah Series”, in the late 1960s. These were fully expressionistic earth toned pictures, and he completed around 250 paintings in the series, based on biblical themes from the Old Testament. When 40 of these paintings were shown in a traveling exhibition premiering at the Richard Green Gallery in New York City, in 1987, art critic Donald Kuspit wrote in ArtForum Magazine: “after Nolde’s biblical pictures, these are the best and most integral group of biblical pictures in the 20th century.”
During the 1970s, Milder co-founded a collective group called Rhino Horn with Peter Passuntino, Peter Dean, Benny Andrews, Nicholas Sperakis, Michael Fauerbach, Ken Bowman, Leonel Gongora, and Bill Barrell. Rhino Horn continued a style promoting politically and socially driven American Figurative Expressionism, when many people in the art world and society were focused on Pop Art and Minimalism.
From the 1970s to today, much of Milder's artworks have been centered around interpretations and the visual energy of the Kabbalah.
Milder's art has been the subject of two retrospectives in Brazil in 2007 at the National Museum Brasilia and, in 2006, at the Museum of Modern Art, in Rio de Janeiro. In Summer of 2009 he was in Brazil where at this time he painted a commissioned mural alongside Brazilian street artist, Eduardo Kobra in Sao Paulo.
Jay Milder’s paintings have undergone various stylistic changes since the 1950s. However the most common and important consistency has been his organic form of Expressionism. Biblical references have always played an important role in Milder’s work. For Milder the Kabbalah underlies all aspects of reality including not only the way a painting is conceived and executed, but also its impact on the visual environment around us.
Collections and Awards
Jay Milder's work is in the permanent collection of many galleries and museums throughout the world, including The Tel-Aviv Museum of Art in Tel-Aviv, Israel, The Provincetown Art Association and Museum in Provincetown, Massachusetts, The Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia, and the Dayton Art Institute in Dayton, Ohio.
He has been awarded the Mexican Government’s Honor Award for artists in 1957, a Rainbow Arts Foundation Award at Exhibition Museum, Guadalajara, Mexico in 1965, he was honored as Professor Emeritus at City College of New York in 1991, and in 1999 he was the Cultural Exchange representative between America and Brazil at Belles Artes Museum, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
- Zucker, Adam. Figurative Expressionist Jay Milder: Unblotting the Rainbow. Berkshire Fine Arts, November 20, 2014. http://www.berkshirefinearts.com/11-20-2014_figurative-expressionist-artist-jay-milder.htm
- Zucker, Adam. Jay Milder Recent Work. Berkshire Fine Arts, October 21, 2009. http://www.berkshirefinearts.com/?page=article&article_id=1294&catID=3
- Panero, James. Gallery Chronicle.The New Criterion, November 2009. http://www.newcriterion.com/articles.cfm/Gallery-chronicle-4327#fn2
- Kuspit, Donald. “Jay Milder at Richard Green Gallery” Art Forum, December 1987. p 111. ill.
- Morgan, Robert C. Jay Milder. The Brooklyn Rail, June 2006. http://www.brooklynrail.org/2006/06/artseen/jay-milder