Harland Miller

Harland Miller is an artist and writer whose peripatetic career has included time spent in both Europe and America. After living and exhibiting in New York, Berlin and New Orleans during the ’80s and ’90s, Miller achieved critical acclaim with his debut novel, Slow Down Arthur, Stick to Thirty (2000), the story of a kid who travels around northern England with a David Bowie impersonator.

As a writer, Miller’s novels and short stories often take his autobiography as the point of departure. A love of books themselves, not only as the carriers of stories but as objects in their own right, equally pervades his artistic practice. In his paintings and works on paper Miller regularly sets up the potential for narratives, characterised by their humanity and tragi-comedy, using titles, phrases or single words to echo or allow for multiple readings.

In 2001 Miller began a series of paintings based on the dust jackets of Penguin books. By appropriating the iconic Penguin logo, Miller found a way to marry painting with his writer’s love of words. Influenced by Pop art and abstraction from mid-century America, his works draw attention to the inherent possibilities of language within the visual field, employing humour, irony and emotion to explore not only the formal qualities of painting but also the complexities of the spoken and written word.

In Miller’s ongoing dust jacket series the artist often works with books as still lives or three-dimensional objects, each with their own unknown but personal histories; of having not only been read, but also gifted, sold, cherished, re-found and even rebound. While Miller conjures these individual narratives in the depiction of the books – the painting style hinting at the dog-eared and scuffed covers of the classics themselves – he uses his own titles to further enrich these histories.

These paintings combine the emotive possibilities of abstract expressionism with the quick punch of words to deliver their message, and for all the macho grist of their making, and often overwhelming scale, they somehow express a frailty that hints at the human condition. As Miller has said: “Painting is the worst medium to express narrative, but perhaps the best to hit a nerve”.