Don’t Let The Bastards Cheer You Up Harland Miller
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Harland Miller created Don’t Let The Bastards Cheer You Up as an original watercolour for his solo exhibition at The Baltic in Gateshead in 2009. It was produced as a screen print in the same year. It is instantly recognisable as one of Miller’s iconic Penguin classics works that he started producing in 2001, inspired by the dust jacket of Penguin books:
“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.”
In Don’t Let The Bastards Cheer You Up we see exactly that, the familiar Penguin logo and layout throws the focus on to his title. The words stand out boldly against the abstract, coloured background which replicates the original dust jackets in a photo realistic style. The title is a play on the old saying “Don’t let the bastards get you down” and triggers a ring of familiarity whilst being deliberately provocative and in keeping with Miller’s usual wittiness seen in other works such as Health And Safety Is Killing Bondage. When asked where the titles from his books originate from, Miller says “nowhere in particular. Everywhere, anywhere.”
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, as we see in this work which features Miller as the author.
Miller was originally concerned about potential copyright infringement when it came to adapting the exact design of the dust jackets. However, Penguin Random House instead commissioned him to make a new series for their offices around the globe, perhaps recognizing how Miller’s take on their books might have a similar effect on their brand as Andy Warhol’s did for Campbell’s Soup cans. The chairman of the international publishing house, John Makinson, has expressed the following admiration for the series:
"What I love in Harland’s work is that, although it’s obviously his take on the Penguin design heritage, it is amazingly true to the spirit of the Penguin cover. They’re sardonic, playful, ironic… but they’re mostly rather beautiful images.”
Miller’s book cover works have become hugely desirable with collectors. His work is also found in the private collections of established celebrities and corporate collections. In much the same way that revolutionary paperbacks themselves were sought after in the 1930s and ’40s, Miller’s works have adopted a similarly desirable collectability today, occupying a significant place in the contemporary art marketplace and the artist himself staking his name within the trajectory of hugely successful and important British artists.
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