Harland Miller is a writer and artist, best known for his satirical paintings of reimagined Penguin classics. Bringing together aspects of pop art, abstract and figurative painting, large-scale photorealism and a writer’s love of words, Miller is rewriting the definition of fine art.
Celebrity collectors include pop star Ed Sheeran, actress Rachel Weisz, supermodel Brooklyn Decker and interior designer Tara Bernerd. And, naturally, Harland Miller art also features in the corporate collection of Penguin Random House.
Miller’s unique take on classic literary iconography has gathered enormous demand, and works have sold at auction for double their estimate price. As a result, many collectors and admirers are looking to buy Harland Miller art as an investment.
Here at Maddox Gallery, we are delighted to stock his work.
Born in Yorkshire, Miller has travelled extensively. Italian Vogue recently reported that BBC Radio 3 will be presenting a five-part memoir by Harland Miller titled ‘One Bar Electric Memoir’ in 2018. The episodes will trace his life from childhood to the Chelsea School of Art, then to New York and Berlin, ending with the recent years of recognition and success.
Described as an “it guy,” his friendship group includes the likes of renowned art dealer Jay Jopling and musician Jarvis Cocker. As friend and artist Max Wigram claims, “Harland never follows fashion, fashion has followed him.”
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.
With an interest in canonical authors like Edgar Allan Poe and Ernest Hemingway, Miller found a way to bring together his passions for literature and fine art. In 2001, he produced a series of paintings based on the dust jackets of Penguin books, combining rebellious reimagined titles with nostalgic colours and traditional imagery.
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 canvases the worn look of a well-read book, with browning pages and peeling spines sometimes visible behind ageing covers.
These reimagined classics now enjoy fame in their own right, leading many collectors and celebrities to invest in Harland Miller art. As a result, prices are climbing rapidly, 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 Fuckin Hard (Ernest Hemmingway), estimated at £20,000- £30,000, sold for £50,000 at Philips Auction House.
Harland Miller art provides a reflection of the ‘subversive’ nature of Penguin books when they were first published in 1935, producing affordable paperbacks for public consumption.
“One of the reasons I made some of the titles unacceptable as book titles in the literary world, or the civilised world, was to remind people of that subversive quality they once had,” Miller explains.
Over the decades since their initial launch, Penguin’s cute character and iconic orange and white colour scheme has created a strong brand image. “They’re seen as very cosy now aren’t they, like Beefeater gin or Marmite or red buses,” Miller comments.
However, 1935 “was a time when the ruling classes didn’t want to see the classics in the hands of the workers.” Miller even considers the nature of penguins, which have an ‘all in it together’ communal mentality, with a thousand-strong hug and human-like characteristics.
Harland Miller takes artistic influence from Ed Ruscha, Anselm Kiefer and Robert Rauschenberg, as well as books. “There are lots of aspects to the Penguin classic that inspire me visually,” he claims.
“One of my favourite artists is Rothko. If you look at a lot of Rothko, when he got into the maroon phase he was dealing with a lot of oranges and this redness of orange. There is a Rothko which is essentially a Penguin book… the same format – the orange-white-orange – just without the graphic furniture.”
While Miller expressed initial concerns about legal action being taken against him for copyright infringement, the publishing house never sued. Instead, Penguin Random 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.”
Perhaps mindful of how Andy Warhol transformed the image of the Campbell Soup brand through his pop art reinterpretations, Miller’s art was embraced by its subject.
Demand for Harland Miller art has shot up in the past six months alone. Whilst it is still possible to pick something up from a reasonably low price point, prices are rising quickly thanks to several strong auction results and low edition releases.
In our opinion it’s unlikely his artwork will remain so undervalued for long. For those looking to buy Harland Miller artworks, we advise that it would be prudent to do so sooner rather than later.
Our Sotheby’s-trained art investment consultants are happy to tell our visitors more about his works – simply contact our Mayfair galleries to find out more.