Harland Miller: Letters as Paintings
Why We Recommend it
Featuring new paintings, drawings and prints, the Yorkshire artist and writer’s (b. 1964) first exhibition in Hong Kong foregrounds the exploration of text, image and the language of painting within his work.
On the ground floor, a series of new large-scale paintings make reference to the layout of book covers, presenting large, overlaid letter forms using a pop-like palette. At the bottom of each, a neutral coloured band displays a ‘title’, in the form of short, enigmatic words such as ‘sin’, ‘luv’, or ‘boss’ alongside Miller’s own name as their ‘author’. In a departure from the artist’s previous and well-known series of paintings that used the recognisable covers of vintage Penguin paperbacks, here text is approached more formally, as a painterly device where the negative space, lines and curves of letters become integral to both image and composition. Through the process of isolating and overlaying various letter forms, Miller creates a sense of fractured space within the painting, a receding visual field that effectively deconstructs both the form and referent of language itself. In the work XXX (2019), the letters are built up from layers of reds, oranges and yellows, their image suggesting objects in motion, where several forms are compressed at once, kaleidoscopic and transparent, like a series of sequential, transparent slides.
Miller draws on a wide range of cultural references in these works, including ’60s and ’70s graphic design and the bold, upbeat covers of post-war psychology books. More specifically, however, they connect with American mid-century painting, a constant point of reference within the artist’s work. Suggesting the very beginnings of a narrative but remaining abstract and open-ended, they offer multiple possible interpretations. By using his own name as author within the image, Miller opens up a third space where the artist becomes his own alter-ego. Through a process of formal painterly exploration, fact and fiction become blurred, creating a visual rupture that provokes, questions and draws attention to the inherent possibilities of language within the visual field. This same compositional format is repeated in a new series of delicate and gestural watercolours, also featured in the exhibition, where bold overlaid letters are saturated in thick washes of different colours with the ‘title’ and ‘author’ rendered more precisely, suggesting a potential idea for a future cover, yet to be printed.