Harland Miller is one of the most popular artists on the market right now. Yet despite his high-profile friends and celebrity collectors, he has maintained his signature dark wit and still pays tribute to his Yorkshire roots in his paintings. Here, we take a look at the man behind the fictional Penguin book covers (and two real books, in fact) and how his personal experiences influenced his art.
- Where was Harland Miller born?
- Where does Harland Miller live?
- Which celebrities collect Harland Miller’s art?
- Is Harland Miller an author?
- Is Harland Miller married?
Where was Harland Miller born?
Miller was born in York in 1964 (he’s never revealed the exact date). He grew up with the miners’ strikes, the Yorkshire Ripper murders and bleak seaside holidays. The experiences later shaped his art and dark sense of humour.
Miller’s love of books started in childhood. His father “used to collect books, any kind of books”. The artist recalled his father “didn’t have a lot of money, but he was a regular at the auction houses in Leeds… Dad always thought he might find a first edition of an Ernest Hemingway among the Haynes car manuals and copies of the Dalesman, but he never did”.
These books would make their way into Miller’s art. “I supposed I experienced at that young age high culture and low culture together before I could make any difference between them. I think that’s had a lasting impression on me,” he later said.
Where does Harland Miller live?
Miller currently lives and works in London, but has lived in New York, Paris and Berlin. He studied at Chelsea College of Art in London from 1984–88 then moved to New York to pursue his art career. At that time, he painted melodramatic scenes of men and women inspired by “B-movie imagery” and Pulp Fiction book covers. The loneliness he felt while living in New York later inspired his painting International Lonely Guy.
It was in Paris that Miller first thought up his Penguin-inspired covers. He had found a box of old Penguin books in a second-hand bookshop. It was an “eureka moment”. Miller was also reading books about Ernest Hemingway’s time in Paris at the time. The combination of the Penguin covers and Hemingway’s macho attitude inspired Miller’s first fictional Penguin cover, I’m So Fucking Hard – Ernest Hemingway.
Which celebrities collect Harland Miller’s work?
One of Harland Miller’s most famous collectors is Ed Sheeran. During an episode of BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, the pop star hinted he owned a version of Miller’s Pipe Down Cunt: “I bought this guy called Harland Miller, who puts really offensive slogans on Penguin books, I’ve got pretty much the most offensive word you can have huge in my house. That’s something I really buzz off, I really like.”
Another famous collector is George Michael, who owned a version of Incurable Romantic Seeks Dirty Filthy Whore and Death, What’s in it for Me?. When the singer’s collection was offered at Christie’s in March 2019, Incurable Romantic sold for over four times its high estimate and set a new auction record for Miller.
Meanwhile, singer Elton John reportedly hangs a version of International Lonely Guy in his bedroom. Supermodel Brooklyn Decker is also a self-declared Miller fan. “I love the scale of his paintings, and his work just makes me laugh,” she said to Architectural Digest. In addition to these star-studded collectors, Miller is good friends with his art dealer Jay Jopling, founder of White Cube gallery, and musician Jarvis Cocker.
Is Harland Miller an author?
In 2000, Miller published his first short story, a photo book about obsessive compulsive disorder called First I was Afraid, I was Petrified. Later that year he released his debut novel Slow Down Arthur, Stick To Thirty, a semi-autobiography story about a boy travelling with a David Bowie impersonator around northern England.
Miller considers himself primarily an artist, however, and claims that he finds writing challenging (“Whenever I start to write a short story, it becomes a novella. If I were to write a novella, it would be War and Peace – in length, anyway.”). Creating fictional Penguin covers gives him the “pleasure to imagine a book I had already written and then painting it”.
Is Harland Miller married?
Miller and his wife have a son called Blake. In an interview with The Yorkshire Post, the artist revealed that he started his Pelican Bad Weather series when his wife was pregnant. “I am about to become a father, but my son is going to grow up somewhere completely different from where I did,” the artist recalled.
Miller channelled his nostalgia for his Yorkshire childhood into his fictitious Pelican book covers, with titles like Whitby, The Self-Catering Years and Scarborough, Have Faith in Cod, inspired by his childhood holidays. The Pelican Bad Weather paintings were the stars of Miller’s exhibition York, So Good They Named It Once at York Art Gallery.