Home Art Magazine The Ultimate Guide to Harland Miller: everything you need to know about the artist

It’s not every day that an artist and writer achieves success in two major cultural fields simultaneously. But that’s exactly the situation with British writer and artist Harland Miller who has achieved great success with large-scale painting canvases that resemble Penguin book covers. 

The painter, writer, print-maker and book fanatic has built a strong following and celebrity-studded group of collectors. While his artworks now sell between five and six figures, Harland Miller prints and editions are being snapped up by savvy collectors and enthusiasts who are keen to own a slice of the artist’s output. The works available by the artist include limited edition silkscreen prints which rank among the more affordable works by Harland. It is also possible to acquire unique watercolour paintings and acrylic artworks, and these pieces tend to go for tens of thousands of pounds.

So who is this artist who has set the art world abuzz? This article puts Harland Miller’s work into context and explains how you can own some of his most effective artworks and prints.

Who is Harland Miller?

The Yorkshire-born artist attended Chelsea School of Art and graduated in 1988. Following stints living in London, New York, and Berlin, he held his first solo show at New York’s Prisunic Gallery in 1990. Soon after he returned to Europe, living in Paris and Berlin where he turned to writing.  

As a writer, Harland achieved critical acclaim with his first novel Slow Down Arthur, Stick to Thirty and his art explores the relationship between image and text and the role of books as both the carriers of stories and as critical objects in their own right. In 2001, he published his second work, a graphic book titled At First I was Afraid, I was Petrified, which exemplifies the artist's use of humour, puns and wordplay that characterise his output. 

A year later, Miller took up his post as Writer in Residence at the Institute of Contemporary Art, London. During this time he curated a series of events that explored the legacy of Edgar Allen Poe. A few years later, his love of Poe led him to curate the exhibition ”You Dig the Tunnel, I’ll Hide the Soil” in which 35 artists were invited to contribute works that responded to the 19th-century writer’s life and work. 

Miller has a fascination with books as vehicles for storytelling, as carriers of meaning and text. He is equally intrigued by books as physical objects, crafted, bound, printed, bought, read, thumbed, loved, re-sold and shared. Through this dual interest in the abstract and material, Miller sees the book as a site of interaction between people and the imaginary world of fiction. By focusing on the covers of books, Miller depicts the humour and word play of his work alongside the physical manifestations of owned books, which have their own narrative history and materiality.

Soon after the publication of his second book, Miller began working on his series of Penguin Book covers which are perhaps his best-known series of paintings. 

Driven to create these works from his nostalgia for the vintage design, his iconic series developed into a series of satirical book covers which unite his interest in exploring the relationship between words, images and books as an object.

Harland Miller’s influences

Harland Miller’s work emerges out of an artistic practice that explores the relationship between the book as an object. Ed Ruscha is probably the most celebrated book artist who emerged from the conceptual art and photography movements of the 1970s.

In 1976, Ed Ruscha painted one of his famous word works that read ‘Artists Who Do Books’. Ruscha used his word paintings often to hint at great pop cultural truths.

Interested in the relationship between words and images, he explores the production of meaning through his high-impact paintings and mixed media works. Influenced by authors such as Ernest Hemingway and by artists such as Ed Ruscha, Miller explores the potential for text and image to highlight the contradictions between reality and representation. 

More generally though, Miller’s painterly influences are drawn from work of the Abstract Expressionist art movement of the mid-twentieth century, including the colour field paintings of the American abstract expressionist Mark Rothko. Using blocks of colour, dripping paint and abstract designs within his large-scale canvasses the influences of other abstract expressionists and action painters like Willem de Kooning also come to mind. The artist’s focus on mass media and culture also has direct links to the Pop Art movement that appropriated aspects of popular and mass culture.

Harland Miller’s most famous artworks

Miller’s most well-known works range from his penguin covers to his self-help book paintings. The artist’s use of sardonic humour in his book cover works from works such as “Death. What’s in it for me” to “Five Ring Circus: It’s All Fun and Games Until Someone Loses an Eye” has won his fans across the world. And these paintings have been collected by celebrities, musicians and actors worldwide including the famed musicians and art collector Sir Elton John and Ed Sheeran.

Harland Miller, Narcissist Seeks Similar, 2021

Harland Miller, Narcissist Seeks Similar, 2021. Courtesy of Baldwin Projects

Miller brings humour, desire and text together in his celebrated print “Narcissist Seeks Similar” (2021). The work refers to the artists series ‘Circling The Small Ads’ in which he explores the ways desire is put into words. 

Harland is fascinated by the ways in which people used to post classified ads in newspapers. He is especially interested in the kinds of language they would use to describe themselves and the ways in which they would articulate the kind of person they were seeking. Harland chose the colour to activate the kinds of desire spoken by the text. He described how colour changes the way you perceive the world: “this kind of cerise pink I used (which according to Penguin’s colour-key, denoted the series on travel and adventure) is a colour that elicits a really strong response – it’s very immediate – like some primal flame being turned up inside. The colour itself was important because the narcissist had to be about desire – right, and of course that had to be special, and this is a ‘Penguin Special’ – the only one of its kind.”

Harland Miller’s print In Shadows I Boogie is a book, print and presentation case that encapsulates Miller’s exploration of the relationship between text, colourfield painting and abstraction and how these relationships influence the way in which the text is read. 

His book paintings draw on themes such as self-help and acts as sites of interplay between history, humour and contemporary life. Harland’s interest in self-help books led to the production of humorous and contradictory titled such as Immediate Relief…Coming Soon (2017).

Miller’s artworks depict letters in varying typefaces and some of his more recent works reimagine modern design tropes (with linear and block colour printing) but always come back to the materiality of the book form. Take for example, In the Shadows I Boogie, the artist includes paint drips at the lower edge of the painting to highlight the mtaeriality of the printed object.

Harland Miller, Ace, 2017 

Harland Miller. Ace, 2017. Courtesy of Baldwin Projects

Miller also produced the Letter Paintings series in which words such as Luv or Ace emblazen the title page.

Harland Miller’s ACE print comes from Miller’s Letter Paintings series which was first shown at the Whiet Cube Gallery in London in 2017. The painting sees the word “ace” painted together with the letters overlaying each other in a pop art-inspired composition. Other works in the series draw on Northern English colloquialisms such as “luv”.

Harland Miller, Love Saves the Day, 2014

Harland Miller. Love Saves the Day, 2014

Harland Miller’s print Love Saves the Day was first made in 2014. The artist also painted Penguin poetry editions of paintings and prints based on the original marbled covers, including Love and Other Crimes and Loves Saves the Day.

In Love Saves the Day Miller creates an effective watercolour work that this rare display of his watercolours and drawings. Inspired by the Penguin book covers. He depicts an ageing paperback in bold fucsia with a painterly effect of broad and dripping colour.

Where can I buy a Harland Miller prints and artworks?

In 2020, the artist, together with the White Cube Gallery in London, produced the series Who Cares Wins in aid of the Covid-19 crisis. These editioned silkscreen prints sold for around £5,000.

While prints remain in the more affordable range, his painted and hand-finished prints demand a higher price. 

A number of artworks by Harland Miller prints are available on Kooness

Miller continues to create new work, both paintings and prints, which prospective buyers can purchase through galleries and exhibitions; on the secondary market, buyers can look to reliable platforms such as Kooness, which has a number of artworks and prints available by Harland Miller. 

Kooness works with reputable galleries to offer authentic artworks to help collectors build collections confident in the knowledge that they are making sound investments.

Cover image: Harland Miller. Wherever You Are, Whatever You're Doing, This One's For You, 2013. Courtesy of Baldwin Projects

Written by: Kooness

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