iSpy Harland Miller in Vogue Italia
Chatting with British artist and writer Harland Miller is to spend time with a brilliant conversationalist, who is perhaps best known for his Pop Art enlargements of the Penguin classics - a series of inspired oils with fancy titles from the typically British paperback books. Our meeting took some time to organise, but it was worth the wait; he is generous with anecdotes about his life and work, particularly in regards to his latest collection "One Bar Electric Memoir" - a series of large canvases inspired by collection of psychology books owned by his father. The ensuing images reflect the post-war era and an England with greater hopes, long before Brexit and Google.
"When my father died I had to look at all his things - a difficult thing to do - but the hardest was to review all his books, mainly because some talked about how to live longer, or if not live longer, at least how to live a more fulfilling life. These books were a mine of information, and many dealt with mental health, memory and society - for the most part they were from the sixties and seventies - and they had a strong impact on me, more for what they said for their covers. I wanted to see if I could take the style and make the pictures with the same cold geometries, but retaining the optimism and post-war hope that my father had clearly sought in those pages" he says.
Miller has worked for years with Jay Jopling and the White Cube Gallery, showing his latest series of paintings here in September last year. "Color Me Hard" (2017), "Reverse Psychology Is not Working" (2017) "Immediate Relief ... Coming Soon" (2017); if his iconic Penguin series allude to the human condition, the titles of his new fictional series will fathom the psyche, and the particular post-war era in which the British status quo has changed, where access to literature and information has become more broad, and society has become less elitist and more oriented towards equal opportunities. "The information in my father's journals was often of a practical nature and was not written in a language for initiates, they dealt with how to fix things - society, yourself ..." he explains.
While these works were inspired by his father's book collection, another collection takes its title from a small portable radiator that his mother had given him when he left home for the first time. "It was portable but it did not have a handle, and she did not really give it to me, she told me not to rush to bring it back, and thank goodness because I still have it," he writes in his laconic and impassive style.
Now living and working in London, Miller grew up in Yorkshire, in a small industrial town where many locals take life as a migraine - a difficult condition that lasts a long time and is recurrent. His ideas are profound and the outcome is a skillful set of ideas that date back to this period. The general mentality was that life is something to bear and suffer, not to be enjoyed, and to be honest is something that I still struggle to understand.
Another thing that comes to my mind - it is not something of the same kind - but I remember someone - perhaps an uncle or maybe Alan Bennett - say that with psychotherapy the question was not to consider yourself a mystery, which is a different way to say not to put it down hard", says Miller showing the Northern humor that he uses to play down any kind of psychological explanation or social context, although he has a strong awareness of both. This dark side of humanity, the idea that one finds life, in turn, sad and fun pervades his work. In 2018 he will feature on BBC Radio 3 in a series-memoir of five episodes that traces all of his life; childhood, the eighties to the Chelsea School of Art, the Nineties between New York and Berlin, ending with the most recent years when recognition and success arrived.