In the advent of his largest solo exhibition to date, Harland Miller considers health warnings for some of his most recent works.
Miller’s iconic dust-jackets with their tongue-in-cheek titles are gracing the walls of the York Art Gallery, a home-coming of sorts for the York-born artist with self-titled exhibition Harland Miller: York, So Good They Named it Once. But there are also so brand new works on display.
“I have no idea who is responsible for writing health and safety advice,” he told the Yorkshire Post, “but I swear on some tubes of the acrylics it says not to ingest wet paint. I mean, who would? But given that some of the works going on display could still be tacky to the touch, I’m thinking they might need to put up some ‘please don’t lick signs’.”
Among his famous dust jackets are his Pelican Bad Weather series, inspired by the holidays of his childhood and Yorkshire itself. He said, “I made the Pelican series 17 years ago when my wife was pregnant with our son Blake. I remember thinking, ‘I am about to become a father, but my son is going to grown up somewhere completely different from where I did.’ I suppose it made me feel nostalgic for my own childhood. For me, those holidays are a reminder of simpler times.”
Talking to the Yorkshire Post, Miller revealed that his main inspiration for the Pelican Bad Weather paintings – and indeed all of his vintage Penguin dust jacket inspired paintings – was his father, who was a great collector of books. Miller talked of how his father would go to auctions in Leeds with what money he had in his pocket and buy boxes of random books that he would pay Miller to sort through.
When Miller finally decided to paint one of his own books, he said that “Right from the start I knew it was going to be a series.”
As well as Miller’s notorious dust jacket paintings on display, there are also his graphic letter paintings and some of his newest works – as indicated by the proposed health and safety warning.
The exhibition at York Art Gallery features 30 paintings by the artist. And of his home-coming Miller said, “I think it’s true for most artists that whatever success they’ve achieved, there is something significant about having the work recognised in their home city.”
Miller certainly has some considerable achievements under his belt. As Becky Gee, curator of fine art at York Art Gallery, said: “We are thrilled Harland has chosen to host such a personal mid-career retrospective here with us in his home city. Harland states that his Yorkshire roots continue to exert a strong influence on his work, and a tragicomic connection to place can be seen through this brilliant collection of paintings which celebrate his relationship to the city and county of his upbringing.”
Harland Miller: York, So Good They Named it Once runs at the York Art Gallery until May 30th.