Don’t Let The Bastards Cheer You Upbelongs to one of Harland Miller’s most recognised series of works inspired by the Penguin book covers.In keeping with his usual wittiness, the text emblazoned across the forefront of this work of art is a play on the old adage “don’t let the bastards get you down”. This run of silkscreen prints - a total edition of 50 prints, all hand signed and numbered by Miller - originates from an original watercolour that the artist produced for his solo exhibition at The Baltic in Gateshead in 2009, also called Don’t Let The Bastards Cheer You Up. The exhibition also featured other sarcastic re-workings of other popular book titles specific to the North East of England - where Miller was born and raised - such as such as Gateshead Revisited..
Bridging the gap between literature and art, Miller’s large-scale works present a unique interpretation of the book covers, differentiated by the altered titles. Often sardonic, humourous, provocative or nostalgic, these titles stamp the artist’s mark upon the images, and offer a fresh twist on the familiar literary iconography. Don’t Let The Bastards Cheer You Up demonstrates Miller’s darkly sarcastic take on the old maxim, exemplifying his mischievous sense of humour. The titles of Miller’s works are often provocative or poignant, subversively sociopolitical, sometimes referencing the original author, whilst at other times, as seen in the present work, citing Miller himself as their creator. In some instances, they reference catchphrases from popular culture, triggering a ring of distant familiarity. When asked where the titles from his books originate from, Miller says “nowhere in particular. Everywhere, anywhere.” He prefers for the viewer to connect to the phrases personally, and draw their own individual interpretations rather than imposing his own meaning upon them.
Don’t Let The Bastards Cheer You Up combines figurative painting with elements of popular culture and literary imagery. With distinct, painterly brushstrokes, the effect is one of an ageing paperback infused with artistic vigour. The faded cover, torn edges and stained, smudged pages nostalgically recall a lifetime history of love and use that visually references our intimate, long-standing relationship with text and language, in a visceral, physical connection between individual and paper page that passes through the generations. Mark Rothko is an acknowledged source of inspiration for the British artist, with his use of prominent bands of colour such as the orange and white seen in the visual aesthetic of Don’t Let The Bastards Cheer You Up. The American painter Ed Ruscha is also a clear influence for Miller, marrying text and image in a radical juxtaposition using slogans and phrases to compliment his paintings.