For this exhibition, the last at White Cube Hoxton Square, Miller showed two new series of works: a selection of paintings based on the marbled covers of vintage Penguin poetry books as well as a group of new figurative paintings that are nostalgic and elegiac in feel.
Miller's practice has developed in tandem with his love for books – both as sculptural objects in their own right and as the carriers of humour, irony and emotion. For over a decade, Miller has been painting fictional covers for imaginary Penguin paperbacks, based on the original colour block covers that were used to denote genre. His new series of paintings adopt the marbled paper covers used on the old-fashioned Penguin poetry editions and are made using luxurious metallic paints on heavy, smooth walnut panels. These paintings appear like facsimiles of an original object, since the wear and tear of each book is clearly discernible, but their titles have been replaced with philosophical aphorisms or snappy turns of phrase. Tonally reduced, in black and gold with the odd accent of brilliant red, their process of making combines an element of pure chance (Miller mixes the paint with a flow medium to make it more slippery) and deliberate intent. The paintings are made on the floor, in the manner of a Pollock drip painting and indexical traces of the artists' movement as well as drips, smudges and accidental colour bleeding all contribute to the final image. Although purely abstract, trompe l'oeil figuration begins to emerge from the 'marbling' where clusters of colours appear like clouds, as in the work In Dreams begin Monsters where celestial sunsets morph into different galaxies or other natural phenomena.
In his series of figurative paintings, Miller adopts a tangential approach to his subject matter in works that deal with the cult of personality. Filmic in feel, these paintings have developed out of the artist's interest in heterogeneous printed ephemera – in particular, adverts and obituaries – from the 1970s. In Painting for John DeLorean (2012), a character that Miller has written a short story and film treatment on; the American engineer, car maker and infamous conman is celebrated in an image of a white gull, cinematically flying into the distance. In other works, Miller has used details from the lives of historical or semi-celebrity characters: the bipolar American chemist and inventor of nylon Wallace Hume Carothers, for example, or the darkly acerbic cartoonist Charles Addams. Described by the artist as ‘escapism through reinvention’; these works suggest a fantasy world of glamour and theatre, nostalgically conveyed through incidental surface details.
Harland Miller was born in Yorkshire in 1964 and lives and works in London. Miller will have a solo exhibition at Ingleby Gallery, Edinburgh until 26 January 2013. Recent solo exhibitions include, LAB, Beirut (2011) and Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead (2009). Miller published his first novel, Slow Down Arthur, Stick to Thirty, to critical acclaim, in 2000 and was writer in residence at the ICA in 2002.