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Harland
Miller

Discover art for sale. Buy and sell prints & editions online by British artist Harland Miller. Using dark humour and an abstract expressionist visual language, Miller's paintings reimagine iconic Penguin book covers.

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Biography

Writer and painter Harland Miller is best known for his recreations of Penguin book jackets and for his mischievous, often dark, sense of humour. Characterised by an undercurrent of dark humour, Miller’s paintings, prints, sculptures and mixed media artworks explore the relationship between word and image to comment on the frequent disconnect between representation and reality.

Beginnings

Harland Miller was born on 11 March 1964 in North Yorkshire. His father bought and collected books, hoping to find a rare first edition among old car manuals and magazines ('he never did,' said Miller). But books would become a recurring theme in Miller’s art. 'I suppose I experienced at that young age high culture and low culture together before I could make any difference between them. I think that’s had a lasting impression on me,' the artist later said.

First Paintings

While he is now most famous for his prints and paintings, Harland Miller began his career as a writer. He published two novels in 2000: a novella titled First I Was Afraid, I Was Petrified, based on a family member’s obsessive compulsive disorder, and a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story set in 1980s Yorkshire called Slow Down Arthur, Stick To Thirty. Now, his fictional Penguin covers gives him the 'pleasure to imagine a book I had already written and then painting it'.

Miller studied at Chelsea College of Art in London from 1984–88 and has lived in New York, Berlin and Paris. His earliest paintings were melodramatic scenes of men and women inspired by 'B-movie imagery' and Pulp Fiction book covers. The loneliness he felt while living in New York later inspired his painting International Lonely Guy.

While living in Paris, Miller found a box of old Penguin books in a second-hand bookshop. It was an 'eureka moment' and the start of his first Penguin paintings, inspired by the ’50s and ’60s paperback covers of the Penguin Classics collection. Miller allowed his imitations to take on a story of their own, exposing tattered edges, dog-eared pages and the occasional coffee-stain that brought them out of fiction and into reality.

Success

Following a Writer in Residence position at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in Boston in 2002, Miller curated his first major group exhibition in London, titled ‘You Dig The Tunnel, I’ll Hide The Soil’ at White Cube in 2008. Works by 34 artists featured in the show, including Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst and Jake and Dinos Chapman.

More exhibitions quickly followed. In 2009, Miller had a solo exhibition at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead, titled ‘Don’t Let The Bastards Cheer You Up’. His first exhibition in Amsterdam took place in 2010: ‘I’ll Never Forget What I Can’t Remember’ at Reflex Amsterdam. In 2016, Miller had his first exhibition in Berlin, ‘Tonight We Make History (P.S. I Can’t Be There)’, then three years later saw his first solo exhibition in Hong Kong.

In 2020 Miller held a solo exhibition at York Art Gallery. ‘York, So Good They Named It Once’, centred around Miller’s childhood memories of Yorkshire. 'I think the majority of people have a love-hate relationship with their hometown… and I think I do too, but just without the hate,' said the artist.

Most Famous Works

Miller is best known for his parodies of classic Penguin book covers like Fuck Art Let's Dance. These artworks combine Pop Art, abstraction, and figurative painting to create a new work that is simultaneously humorous and nostalgic, on a monumental scale. The instantly recognisable covers are a vehicle for Miller’s satirical messages and witty puns.

Influences

Miller has said that inspiration for his work can come from anywhere: the outdoors, the bus stop, a misheard conversation or the personal advert sections of newspapers – which informed Incurable Romantic Seeks Dirty Filthy Whore.

Visually, Miller cites Ed Ruscha, Robert Rauschenberg and Mark Rothko as influences. His more recent letter paintings were inspired by a writing style found in medieval manuscripts, the artist himself claiming, 'I brought a Pop Art sensibility to medieval manuscripts'.

Style & Techniques

For his prints, Miller uses polymer-gravure, photo-etching, block printing and silkscreen, which allows him to reproduce his paintings in large numbers while also avoiding exact mechanical repetition through slight variations on each sheet.

Life & Times

Miller grew up with the miners’ strikes, the Yorkshire Ripper murders and bleak seaside holidays. The experiences later shaped his art and dark sense of humour.

Miller and his wife have a son called Blake. In an interview with The Yorkshire Post, the artist revealed that he started his Pelican Bad Weather series when his wife was pregnant. 'I am about to become a father, but my son is going to grow up somewhere completely different from where I did,' he recalled. He channelled this nostalgia for Yorkshire into his book covers, with titles like Whitby, The Self-Catering Years And Scarborough, Have Faith In Cod, inspired by his childhood holidays.

On The Market

An original painting by Harland Miller can sell for £237,500 at auction, while a screen print can fetch up to £73,000.

Among Miller’s celebrity collectors is Ed Sheeran. During an episode of BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, the pop star hinted he owned a version of Miller’s Pipe Down Cunt: 'I bought this guy called Harland Miller, who puts really offensive slogans on Penguin books, I’ve got pretty much the most offensive word you can have huge in my house. That’s something I really buzz off, I really like.'

Another famous collector is George Michael, who owned a version of Incurable Romantic Seeks Dirty Filthy Whore and Death, What’s In It For Me?. Meanwhile, singer Elton John reportedly hangs a version of International Lonely Guy in his bedroom. Supermodel Brooklyn Decker is also a self-declared Miller fan. 'I love the scale of his paintings, and his work just makes me laugh,' she said to Architectural Digest.

In addition to these star-studded collectors, Miller is good friends with his art dealer Jay Jopling, founder of White Cube gallery, and musician Jarvis Cocker.

Murder - We've All Done it by Harland Miller

Image © Christie's / Murder - We've All Done it © Harland Miller 2011

1. £325,000 for Harland Miller's Murder - We've All Done It

In keeping with Miller’s Penguin Classics dust jacket series, Murder - We’ve All Done it incorporates the artist’s typical inspiration in a special edition marble-effect format. Naturally, the witty text draws us in, with this title being used multiple times across the artist’s oeuvre, and this specific work sold for £325,000 at Christie’s London on October 16th 2021.

Too Cool to Die by Harland Miller

Image © Sotheby's / Too Cool to die © Harland Miller 2004

2. £277,200 for Harland Miller's Too Cool To Die

A perfect example of Miller’s irreverent parodies of the Penguin Classic book covers, Too Cool To Die recently sold for £277,200 at Sotheby’s London on the 3rd March 2022. More than just witty wordplay, this large-scale piece demonstrates the depth of personal connection Miller has to the vintage Penguin jackets that have shaped his career - we see the green tinted edges of the painting suggesting the novel’s wear and age. The level of depth and painterly attention given to the rich orange background here is also indicative of the influence that artists such as Mark Rothko have had on his work.

Incurable Romantic by Harland Miller

Incurable Romantic © Harland Miller 2007

3. £237,500 for Harland Miller's Incurable Romantic Seeks Dirty Filthy Whore

One for those looking for fast love – Incurable Romantic Seeks Dirty Filthy Whore, from the personal collection of singer George Michael, set a new auction record for Miller when it was auctioned at Christie’s in London on 14 March 2019. Selling for £237,500, it more than tripled the previous record of £75,000 set by Sotheby’s in 2015. The painting sold after just two minutes of intense bidding in the saleroom and over the telephones, eventually achieving almost eight times its low estimate.

Incurable Romantic is quickly becoming one of Miller’s most popular artworks with collectors. Inspired by the lonely hearts adverts in newspapers, the artist has made many versions of this piece over the years, reworking the title onto different styles of Penguin covers. The record-breaking painting from George Michael’s collection was created in 2007 – the singer bought it in the same year and kept it in his collection for the rest of his life.

Incurable Romantic by Harland Miller

Incurable Romantic © Harland Miller 2007