Having encountered Harland Miller back in the early 00’s, through his first novel – ‘Slow down Arthur, Stick to thirty’ – (David Bowie impersonator/northern kid/road trip. Read it) – I was intrigued to meet the man himself. Fortunately, Harland as artist spent some time recently at one of the most gorgeous creative spaces in the north: York Art Gallery – and it was while there, that assembled journalists listened to the unassuming York native talk about his latest exhibition.
‘York, So Good They Named It Once’ is Miller’s largest solo exhibition to date and viewing these 2.4m high paintings in the county that inspires much of his work, seems entirely fitting.
Friday 21st February 2020 Picture Credit Charlotte Graham Pictures Shows: Harland Miller Artist with his largest Solo Exhibition to Date Harland Miller: York, So Good They Named It Once 21st February – 31 May 2020 • York Art Gallery to stage Harland Miller’s (b. York, 1964) largest solo show to date • The exhibition includes over thirty new and existing paintings shown across three galleries, including his best-known series the ‘Penguin Book Covers’ and the ‘Pelican Bad Weather Paintings’ • With his signature tragicomic sensibility, the exhibition references Miller’s relationship to York, the city in which he grew up, as well as the wider county of Yorkshire Internationally acclaimed artist Harland Miller’s largest exhibition to date will open at York Art Gallery this February. Harland Miller: York, So Good They Named It Once will feature some of Miller’s best-known works alongside new paintings created especially for the exhibition. These include his renowned ‘Penguin Book Covers’, inspired by the dust jackets of volumes from the 1950s and 1960s, and the ‘Pelican Bad Weather Paintings’ which evoke the culture and geography of Yorkshire as a whole. The displays will include more than thirty works shown over three galleries and explore Miller’s formative years growing up in Yorkshire in the 1970s, which he cites as key to his artistic development. 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.” Miller said, “I grew up in Yorkshire in the seventies – during the miners’ strike and the reign of the Yorkshire Ripper – and looking back, these times seemed quite dark, quite literally when you had the power cuts too. Though it never really struck you as a kid why, instead of watching telly, you were suddenly playing Monopoly by candle light with your family. It did bring people together though – as a family that is the only thing I remember us doing together. It’s an honour to return to my hometown and show my work at York Art Gallery. I think it is true of most artists, that whatever success they’ve achieved in the wider world, the significance of having that recognised in their hometown or city is totally unique. There is both a historical and emotional context which simply isn’t present and cannot be manufactured for any other exhibition.” The exhibition will be split into three sections. These are: Pelican Bad Weather Paintings Pelican books, the non-fiction, educational imprint of Penguin books, were present in Miller’s childhood home – his dad collected old books, buying ‘lots’ from sale rooms, in the hope of finding a first edition among them. The ‘Pelican Bad Weather Paintings’, based on the dust jackets of these books, make wider references to the culture and geography of the North of England. Many of the works included in this section make reference to Yorkshire and its coastline. Such allusions – drawn most notably from the fishing and seaside towns around the Yorkshire coast, where the artist spent the summer holidays of his formative years – inspired works like BRIDLINGTON 93,000,000 Miles From The Sun and WHITBY The Self Catering Years. Apart from the use of language that characterises this series – which Miller attributes to the way “humour replaces or does instead of stoicism in the North of England” – these works also refer formally to Miller’s time in New York, where he experienced first-hand American Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art, all of which can be seen to contribute to the overall make-up of these paintings. Penguin Book Covers Miller started painting book covers while living in Paris during the 1990s. At first, these were copies of French pulp novels from the 1950s for which he substituted titles germane to his own experiences such as International Lonely Guy. Re-titling books became an important part of his process, and when Miller discovered a cardboard box of Penguin books outside an English bookshop near Notre Dame he was inspired to create reproductions of the classic covers. Their beaten-up, damp-smelling dust jackets reminded him of his childhood and the weather in Northern England. Miller’s use of language comes from no one particular source but often fits into the form in which language appears, such as the small or personal advert sections of newspapers, for example, Incurable Romantic Seeks Dirty Filthy Whore. Many of his works hover between hope and disappointment, such as You Can Rely on Me: I’ll Always Let You Down. Letter Paintings and Recent Work After finishing school, Miller enrolled onto a number of A-Level courses in order to qualify for study at York School of Art. One of these was the History of Lettering, through which he discovered the allure of highly decorative, illuminated medieval manuscripts. Unlike previous works which focus around the idea of ‘the title’, these paintings feature single short words or acronyms made up of only two, three or four letters. The letters appear overlaid on the canvas in a format inspired by the illuminated text of medieval manuscripts, a form to which Miller brings a Pop Art sensibility. Combining and celebrating both the sacred and the everyday, these works feature words such as ‘Up’, ‘Ace’ or ‘Luv’, conveying Miller’s ability to uncover and conjure moments of humanity in popular language. A programme of events will be run throughout the exhibition. Please visit www.yorkartgallery.org.uk for the latest information. Kindly supported by: ENDS Notes to Editors: Please contact York Museums Trust’s media team, details below, for interview requests with Harland Miller. Biography: Harland Miller was born in Yorkshire, UK in 1964 and lives and works in London. Solo exhibitions include Palacio Quintanar, Segovia, Spain (2015) and BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, UK (2009). Group exhibitions include Somerset House, London (2016); Sculpture in the Close, Jesus College, Cambridge, UK (2013); Summer Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts, London (2005, 2006, 2007); Kunsthalle Mannheim, Germany (2004); and Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (1996). In 2008, Miller curated the group show ‘You Dig The Tunnel, I’ll Hide The Soil’ at White Cube and Shoreditch Town Hall, London. Image credits: Harland Miller, Death, What’s in it for Me?, oil on canvas, 2007, © Harland Miller, © White Cube (Stephen White). Harland Miller, Bad Weather Painting 1, 2020, oil on canvas, © Harland Miller. Photo © White Cube (Theo Christelis) Harland Miller, Ace, oil on canvas, 2017, © Harland Miller, Photo © White Cube (George Darrell). For high resolution images or more information please contact: Lee Clark, Communications and Evaluation Manager: email@example.com / 01904 687673 Lauren Masterman, Marketing and Communications Officer: firstname.lastname@example.org / 01904 650351 York Art Gallery Opening Times: Monday- Sunday: 10am-5pm. Last admission: 4:30pm Closed: 25, 26 December and 1 January For more information go to: www.yorkartgallery.org.uk
Images: Charlotte Graham/Colin Petch
The exhibition runs until 31 May and includes three distinct subject areas: Miller described the works in the ‘Letter Painting’ series as being inspired by his interest in the artistry and technical detail in the leading letters of text in medieval manuscripts. Instead of The Lindisfarne Gospels, the viewer is greeted with short, contemporary words including ‘Boss’, ‘Ace, Bad’, ‘If’ and ‘Kiss’. White Cube, the organisation that works globally with artists to bring their genius to the rest of us – describe Miller as being able to connect Pop Art, Abstraction and Figurative Painting with his writer’s love of text. Completely.
The Penguin Book dust jacket paintings first appeared in 2001 and are inspired by the books from the 1950’s and 60’s. His satirical re-imagining of the titles while timeless, are perhaps particularly relevant in today’s world.
The Pelican Bad Weather paintings series might possibly be the works that attract most visitors to the gallery. The tongue-in-cheek references to Grimsby, Whitby and Blackpool provide the provenance that we love in the North – and self-catering in Whitby might mean more to us than to a resident of Nempnett Thrubwell. Possibly.
One of York School of Art’s most successful sons (in partnership with White Cube), has brought an incredibly impressive exhibition to Yorkshire. We might sometimes feel like we’re ninety-three million miles from the sun, but visiting York Art Gallery this spring will definitely supply some artistic glow.
Harland Miller: York, So Good They Named It Once. 14 February – 31 May 2020