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“There’s always been this compunction to write on pictures.” Harland Miller
Harland Miller is a British artist and novelist, best known for his satirical paintings of reimagined Penguin classics, often with his own invented sardonic titles. He takes artistic influence from Ed Ruscha, Anselm Kiefer and Robert Rauschenberg, and cites Mark Rothko as one of his favourite artists.
Born in Yorkshire in 1964, Miller attended the Chelsea School of Art, from which he received by his BA and his MA, after which he travelled extensively, living in New York, New Orleans, Paris and Berlin.
Miller first achieved critical acclaim with his writing. His debut novel, ‘Slow down Arthur, Stick to Thirty’ (2000), featured a kid who travels around northern England with a David Bowie impersonator. In the same year, Miller published the novella, ‘First I was Afraid, I was Petrified’, based on the true story of a female relative with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
In 2001 Miller produced the first of a series of paintings based on the dust jackets of old Penguin books. He was struck by the visceral nostalgia that the book covers, rather than their contents, evoked. “There are lots of aspects to the Penguin classic that inspire me visually,” he claims. For the last two decades, Harland Miller has developed this sardonic take on classic Penguin covers, inventing controversial titles which often cite him as the author, though he sometimes plays on the name of the original writer.
His sarcastic titles pay tribute to Britain’s tendency towards melancholy nostalgia, seditious socio-political critique, and a curiosity about what words lie behind the book’s front cover. Dripped, smudged paint and muted tones give the canvas the worn look of a well-read book, with browning pages and peeling spines sometimes visible behind ageing covers.
While Miller expressed initial concerns about legal action being taken against him for copyright infringement, Penguin Random House never sued. Instead, The publishing house commissioned him to produce a new series to hang in its offices around the world. “What I love in Harland’s work is that, although it’s obviously his take on the Penguin design heritage, it is amazingly true to the spirit of the Penguin cover,” explains John Makinson, chairman of Penguin Random House. “They’re sardonic, playful, ironic… but they’re mostly rather beautiful images.”
These reimagined classics now enjoy fame in their own right, leading many collectors and celebrities to invest in Harland Miller art, and pieces often far exceed their predicted values. Miller’s most successful auction results include ‘This Is Where It’s Fucking At’, which was sold at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Fair in 2016 for £75,000, soaring above its estimate of £20,000-£30,000. Similarly, I’m So Fucking Hard – Ernest Hemingway’ estimated at £20,000- £30,000, sold for £50,000 at Phillip’s Auction House.
Celebrity collectors include pop star Ed Sheeran, actress Rachel Weisz, supermodel Brooklyn Decker and interior designer Tara Bernerd.
Notable solo exhibitions include the Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York, the White Cube, London, and the Royal Academy of Art, London.
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