The first body of work in the exhibition Miller Brittain: When the Stars Threw Down their Spears, dates from the 1930s. Drawn and painted with much wit and human empathy, these works evoke the daily life of the various strata of Saint John society. His images of workers and the poor are, as curator Tom Smart writes, potent metaphors for the failed promise of economic prosperity. An invitation to paint murals on over 24 metres of wall space in the Saint John Tuberculosis Hospital was cancelled in 1942 after Brittain had completed the full scale preparatory drawings. The initial concept linking the past and contemporary treatment of tuberculosis was radically transformed in the final drawings that are a potent commentary of the causes of the disease in poverty and poor living conditions.
Brittain realized two paintings and seven large drawings for the Canadian War Records that depict the daily routine of the airmen and the tensions arising from the unseen war. Only one painting, Night Target, Germany - a dramatic depiction of a bombing raid seen from the viewpoint of the airmen—depicts the actual combat.
Brittain’s post-war drawings and paintings took on a greater acuity and emotion. There is less humour and more pain and his subjects evolved from the tragedies of others into biblical subjects evoking his own inner trauma resulting from his experiences during the war. He interpreted biblical stories, almost to the exclusion of all other subjects until 1951 when satire and pathos were replaced by expressions of ecstasy, joyousness, and rapture bordering on hysteria.