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What’s In It For Me?

In Death What's In It For Me? Harland Miller's light pink backdrop signals his playful approach to the weighty theme of death, affording space for his blackly humourous existential query.

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Meaning & Analysis

One of his iconic penguin covers, Death What’s in it For me? emphasises some of the darker themes that Harland Miller looks at in his works.

In 2001, Miller began producing his Penguin classics paintings, inspired by the format of the dust jackets of Penguin books. In these iconic works, he appropriates the familiar format and motif of the Penguin title page, exploring the relationship between the abstract, bold background colour and the embedded text, coming up with his own ironic, humorous titles with the likes of Fuck Art Let’s Dance and of course, Death What’s In It For Me?

Miller’s prints and paintings of dust jackets played a crucial role in kick starting his artistic career, and his first inspiration for the series came from stumbling upon a box of Penguin books outside a second-hand English bookstore in Paris in 1992. Their dusty, old and damp smell apparently reminded him of Northern England and his hometown of Yorkshire. This is when he experienced a “Eureka!” moment:

“I realised that the design of those classics would throw all the focus on the title of the book, which is exactly what I wanted to do.(…) People are so used to the format already with the text in the middle that you could really say whatever you wanted.” The 'cover' of Death Whats in it for Me? is worn and rugged, evoking an added feeling of nostalgia to this particular work.