December 20, 2014 - January 20, 2015
The artist and writer Harland Miller is known for his large-scale, playful reworkings of Penguin book covers. Miller takes much-loved book jackets of classic works by Hemmingway, Fitzgerald, Edgar Allen Poe and others as his starting point. By rendering them in oils at poster size with quirky new titles, he transforms them into contemporary, often satirical commentaries on life and literature.
As with Californian artist, Ed Ruscha, it is words that set the tone in Miller’s work. Whether ironic, nostalgic, or downright cheeky - “Dirty Northern Bastard,” by DH Lawrence, or “I’m so Fucking Hard,” by Hemmingway - the titles demythologise and amuse in equal measure.
Although a dedicated wordsmith, Miller is an irrepressibly painterly artist too: the bands of orange, or blue or green either side of the book’s title that make a Penguin cover so instantly recognisable, become emotive, textural colour fields here. With their dripping paint and smudgy blurring, they have more in common with the aesthetic of Rothko than the uniformity of a mass-produced paperback. Miller is attracted to books as objects – the more battered, stained and lived in the better. “I remember my parents’ Penguin books. For me, they are about nostalgia for a by-gone era – that musty smell, those coffee-mug rings, the often heart-breaking inscriptions on the inside cover.”
Miller has lived and worked in New York, Berlin and Paris. Born in the North of England in 1964, Miller’s fondness for the drizzle and grimness of those northern towns remains a strong theme in his work. “I suppose mine is a very English sense of humour,” he says.
In this rare display of his watercolours and drawings, Miller’s Penguin covers are closer to still life studies, rather than two-dimensional posters. Experimenting with different paper sizes and angles, he occasionally shows their spines, and the shadows they cast. It is a celebration of books as treasured objects. His drawings – in particular his studies for his large-scale oil paintings with their notes scribbled down the margins - are some of his most intimate works to date.
Harland Miller’s group exhibitions include Royal Academy, London (2006, 2005), Kunsthalle Mannheim (2004) and the ICA, London (1996).
A book of Harland Miller’s watercolours will be published by Reflex Editions Amsterdam as well as a special limited edition of 2 colour lithographs.