artnet Asks: Harland Miller

A writer most known for his large-scale painted reproductions of Penguin book covers.

Harland Miller Courtesy the artist

Harland Miller is an English writer and artist most known for his large-scale painted reproductions of Penguin book covers, combining elements of abstraction, pop, and figurative painting. In the same year as this series, 2001, he received critical acclaim for his debut novel Show down Arthur, Stick to Thirty, the story of a young boy traveling around Northern England with a David Bowie impersonator. Miller received his BA and MA in art history from the Chelsea College of Art in London, and, in 2002, was named the Writer in Residence at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, MA. In 2008, he was named the curator of an exhibit in celebration of Edgar Allen Poe’s birthday—Poe has been source of inspiration to him throughout his career. The exhibition was hosted at White Cube in London, and Marianne Boesky Gallery in New York. The artist lives and works in London.

When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
A​s soon as ​I​ knew that you had to have a job—I’ve talked about this before, but ​I​ was in a remedial group at school known as Peanuts—in Peanuts, if you showed any promise at anything, they really encouraged it, so ​I​ was allowed to do art all day long. B​ecause of the work ethic at the school, everything had to have a practical application, so eventually they said to me, “Harland we’d like you to make some KEEP OUR SCHOOL TIDY ​posters.” These turned out to be a big hit​. I don’t know if they resulted in a tidier school, but a lot of kids who saw them and knew ​I’d done them came to me with commissions of sorts to paint pictures of their favorite bands on their jackets or helmets or the panels of scooters​. S​oon ​I​ was making more money than the teachers, and the kudos of it saved me from the stigma of Peanuts. ​​I ​also realized it wasn’t true—you COULD make money as an artist, and you didn’t have to wait to be dead either.

Harland Miller, The Next Life's On Me (2012)

Harland Miller, The Next Life’s On Me (2012)
Oil on wood, 118.1 x 79.9 in.
Photo courtesy of White Cube.

What inspires you?
This is a varied and ever-changing thing; bit like travel—travel inspires me—it doesn’t have to be far-flung places though—just taking a train can be great. I like a lot of travel writing as well. I guess when I’m in the studio, painting and music inspire me. I listen to a lot of scores, John Barry in particular. Swimming is cool, I can think when I’m swimming.

Harland Miller, I'll Never Forget What I Can't Remember (2013)

Harland Miller, I’ll Never Forget What I Can’t Remember (2013)
Oil on canvas, 99.2 x 61.4 in.
Photo courtesy of Ingleby Gallery.

If you could own any work of modern or contemporary art, what would it be?
I would love to own The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living by Damien Hirst, maybe because I like swimming, though I wouldn’t want to meet this guy while I was doing the front crawl. Maybe it’s because my family is from the Whitby Bar area, which used to be a whaling port in the Victorian era, and there are a gigantic pair of whale jawbones at the top of the cliff through which you have to walk to descend the stairs that lead down to the beach. The superstition was to make a wish as you went through the jaws—it was a  very meditative act that stayed with you as you walked down the cliff, and there’s something of this in Hirst’s sculpture.

Five Ring Circus, Itʼs All Fun And Games Till Someone Loses An Eye (2012)

Harland Miller, Five Ring Circus, Itʼs All Fun And Games Till Someone Loses An Eye (2012)
Giclée print on German etching, 39 x 26 in.
Photo courtesy of Ingleby Gallery.

What are you working on at the moment?
A large group of pictures for a project in LA.

When not making art, what do you like to do? 
I like… hmm that was the question I was hoping you wouldn’t ask me.


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