In 1992, Harland Miller found a box of vintage Penguin books outside a second-hand bookshop in Paris. It was a pivotal moment for the artist, who began making tongue-in-cheek paintings based on 1950s and ’60s dust jackets. These works, made from the late 1990s onwards, have become Miller’s career-defining oeuvre, which is well represented at an exhibition at York Art Gallery, opening on 14 February.
York, So Good They Named It Once is the London-based, White Cube-represented artist’s largest solo show to date. It is also a homecoming for Miller, who was born in Yorkshire in 1964. Indeed, much of the work on show points to his upbringing, including his Pelican Bad Weather Paintings, with their wry subtitles, such as BRIDLINGTON Something Tells Me Nothing’s Going to Happen Tonight, GRIMSBY The World is Your Whelk and WHITBY The Self Catering Years, which capture the gloominess of family holidays spent along the Yorkshire coast.
Miller is also the author of two books – including 2001’s coming-of-age tale Slow Down Arthur, Stick to Thirty – and it’s not surprising that it is the interplay between text, colour and image that steals the show. His recent fluorescent-bright Letter Paintings, for instance, incorporate words like “Ace” and “Luv” with a pop-art sensibility, and the exhibition will also feature a selection of new works. “I think it is true of most artists,” says Miller, “that whatever success they’ve achieved in the wider world, the significance of having that recognised in their hometown is totally unique.”