Blain/Southern is presenting their first solo exhibition of Harland Miller’s work at their Berlin gallery. The show opens today as part of Berlin Gallery weekend. This marks a departure from the artists use of appropriated imagery, the exhibition comprises many new large-scale paintings that incorporate his own designs, which is a first for the artist. He takes formal and conceptual inspiration from the abstract geometrical covers of popular psychology books of the 60s and 70s, an era when positive messaging often masked societal neurosis.
In the main space, three metre high paintings, with titles such as Overcoming Optimism and Back on the Worry Beads , are hung in pairs. Often the same text appears on different compositions, demonstrating how form and colour relationships can change the way in which titles can be interpreted. Interspersed between the larger paintings, a number of smaller works act like punctuation marks. The sentiments of the artist’s phrases remain open enough to imbue every work with a different idiosyncratic significance to each individual viewer. Upstairs, a new body of the artist’s most iconic artworks, The Penguin Books Series paintings, are bought together including; High on Hope , I’ll Never Forget What I Can’t Remember and the titular Tonight We Make History (P.S. I Can’t Be There).
The exhibition marks twenty five years since the artist lived in Berlin. He first visited in 1985 prior to the fall of the wall and the experience had a lasting impact on his practice. Staying in Kreuzberg and exploring the east of the city, he encountered many German paintings that incorporated prominent use of text as an integral part of the work. Unable to speak the language and thus understand such texts, Miller found the appearance of these words as imagery equally as effective as the written message. Having been advised against the use of typography in painting at art school in the UK, this discovery of a direct communication between type and image was a defining moment.
Harland Miller returned to Berlin after the collapse of the wall, attracted by the space to create largescale work and keen to immerse himself in the unique cultural milieu of a recently reunified city. A published novelist, it was also during this time that Miller began writing. Later he started to marry painting and text in a series based on book covers, initially incorporating the pulp images found on cheap paperbacks; changing the titles of books that he referenced and substituting them for his own. He found in the design of the Penguin books a composition where the graphics threw even more emphasis onto the title. He adopted this as both a conceptual and physical element in his work. As a writer Miller inhabits his characters, embracing their individual imperfections and dark personalities; in his paintings the artist displays a similar empathy with the deeper reaches of the minds of his audience.
When British artist Harland Miller (b.1964) finished his MA in London, he moved to New York’s Meatpacking District. Living among transsexuals and the homeless in the early years of the West Village art scene brought a strong sense of dislocation from his family home in the North of England. It was during this time Miller created International Lonely Guy, a character, something of an alter ego, a way to reflect on his isolated but thrilling situation. Success with his painting in New York encouraged Miller’s wandering habit and he spent the following years living in New Orleans, Paris and Berlin. Becoming Writer in Residence at the ICA on his return to London led to the publishing of his first novel, Slow Down Arthur Stick To Thirty. Harland Miller’s writing and painting have developed synchronously and come together in his most iconic artworks, The Penguin Books Series.
Miller’s selected solo exhibitions include: First I was Afraid; I was Petrified, Fig. – 1 , London (2000); Don’t Let the Bastards Cheer You Up , BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead (2009), The Next Life’s On Me , White Cube, London (2012), and In Dreams Begin Monsters , Palacio Quintanar, Segovia (2015). In 2008 Miller curated the group exhibition, You dig the tunnel, I’ll hide the soil – a homage to Edgar Allen Poe held on the bicentenary of his birth at White Cube and Shoreditch Town Hall. In 2002 he was Writer in Residence at the ICA, London and over the course of his residency he programmed a number of events drawing from his experience in literature and fine art. He has also participated in many notable group shows including Fools Rain , ICA, London (1996); Direct Painting , Kunsthalle Mannheim, Mannheim, (2004); Exhibitionism, The Art of Display , Courtauld Institute of Art, London (2010); Cool Britannia , Gallery Hyundai, Seoul, (2012) and Hay Festival, Museum Esteban Vincente, Segovia (2015). Miller’s work is in numerous public and private collections, including Tate, London, and BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead. The artist lives and works in London.
Photo: P C Robinson © Artlyst 2016