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Critical Review

First seen at an ICA Group show in 1996, Miller’s Penguin Prints, the now-iconic book jacket paintings, were what propelled him to art-world acclaim. The founder of White Cube gallery Jay Jopling, who visited the exhibition, saw great potential in the Penguin works and arranged a studio visit with Miller. He has been represented by White Cube ever since and is now amongst the gallery’s most sought-after artists.

Harland Miller’s prints and paintings based on dust jackets came from his 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 to 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.’

Why are the Penguin Prints collection important?

In terms of their artistic style, the Penguin prints are influenced by both Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism, infused with the conceptual aspect of the written word. Miller is interested in Pop Art’s ideas of challenging authenticity and overriding authorship; most of his works feature him as the author and were given humorous titles such as From Rags To Polyester; Bridlington, Ninety Three Million Miles From The Sun and York, So Good They Named It Once. A further play on authorship is his occasional use of other famous existing authors. These works proved to be highly popular, such as Animal Husbandry – Charles Bukowski, sold for £32,500 and Ignore All Alien OrdersAldous Huxley fetching for £60,000 with Phillips Auction House, both well above their original estimates.

The Penguin collection represents an exploration of the relationship between text, colour and their effect on the audience, while simultaneously formulating poignant social critique. Miller cites the likes of Ed Ruscha, Robert Rauschenberg, Anselm Kiefer and most importantly Mark Rothko as his main artistic influences.

Miller’s Penguin collection has enjoyed an impressive and enduring popularity, both the original paintings and his editions. Their market has been attracting many famous collectors to invest in his artworks with pieces often fetching a lot higher than their estimated prices. The artist’s most impressive results at auction include This Is Where It's Fucking At sold for £75,000 in 2016, going above its estimate of £20,000-£30,000 at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Fair. In addition, I'm So Fucking Hard - Ernest Hemingway valued originally at £20,000- £30,000, sold for £50,000 by Phillip's.

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