Fuck Art, Let’s Dance belongs to artist Harland Miller’s iconic series of works inspired by the Penguin book covers. The sardonic title of this work, which was exhibited as part of a diptych alongside its humorous counterpart Fuck Dancing, Let’s Fuck, is typical of Miller’s artistic practice, which uses bold, black humour as a primary element in his work. Drawing upon his Northern roots and steeped in British heritage, Miller’s work simultaneously celebrates a treasured part of his country’s national aesthetic identity, whilst forging a fresh interpretation of that aesthetic that catapults it straight into contemporary culture, reimagined in a new context with bold, daring text. Whilst the text takes precedent, the dripping colour and painterly brushstrokes means that the effect of these works is one of an ageing paperback infused with artistic vigour.
Offensive language, as seen here in the present work, is paradigmatic of Miller’s artistic practice. His father wouldn’t tolerate swearing, and it still bears the ability to shock an audience; Miller explains, “people read before they can stop themselves.” Fuck Art, Let’s Dance is also self-referential, in itself a paradox between object and text.
Miller places heavy emphasis on the text in his works, and in fact first achieved widespread critical recognition as a writer as opposed to an artist, with his debut novel, Slow down Arthur, Stick to Thirty published in 2000. Then in 2001, merging his interests in image and text, Miller began creating the series of works based upon the Penguin book covers, which he picked up from thrift shops during his time spent living in Paris, but that also reminded him of his childhood in the North of England. Unable to understand the titles in French, he began to fabricate his own titles. He explains, “you can really say anything you wanted in the middle panel, because people are already used to the form of the Penguin book, so in that way the text carried more weight than the painting.” Miller was able to incorporate his love of classic literature with painting. Fuck Art, Let’s Dance is a typical example from this body of work, which combines figurative painting with elements of popular culture and literary imagery. The faded cover, torn edges and stained, smudged pages nostalgically recall a lifetime history of love and use, visually referencing our intimate, long-standing relationship with text and language, a visceral, physical connection between person and page that passes through the generations. The American painter Ed Ruscha is a clear influence for Miller, marrying text and image in a radical juxtaposition using slogans and phrases to compliment his paintings. Mark Rothko, too, is another such acknowledged source of inspiration for the British artist, whose work demonstrates the use of bands of colour such as the yellow and white seen in Fuck Art, Let’s Dance.