Penguin book cover images that recall the publisher’s ‘subversive’ past

As recognisable brands go, Penguin’s cute little brand character and orange and white striped book covers have cemented the publisher into one of the most iconic.

Harland Miller Somebody Down There Likes Me 2014

Source: © Harland Miller Photo: Ben Westoby Courtesy White Cube

Harland MillerSomebody Down There Likes Me2014

While its designs have gone through many iterations over the years – including a new identity for Penguin Random House by Pentagram’s Michael Bierut early this year  – the look and feel remains instantly familiar and often loaded with nostalgia.

Harland Miller No Business Like No Business 2014

Source: © Harland Miller Photo: Ben Westoby Courtesy White Cube

Harland MillerNo Business Like No Business2014

Artist Harland Miller has taken this affection further than most, decocting much of his artistic practice to paintings based on Penguin covers, modified with expressionistic brushstrokes and cheeky takes on book titles. Naturally, the covers more often than not bear Miller’s name as the author.

While there was talk that initially, Penguin had hinted at a lawsuit against Miller for taking the branding so faithfully in his work; Penguin Random House has instead embraced his use of their look and their little web-footed mascot, commissioning him to create a series of the canvases to be hung in their offices around the world.

The pieces went on show last night for one evening only at the White Cube, and in the flesh, they’re markedly different to how they appear on screen (the lovely smell of the oil paints probably helped heighten the difference) oil marking a more Rauschenberg -esque turn than a simple aping of the Pengin cover look.

Harland Miller I Can Can I? 2014

Source: © Harland Miller Photo: Ben Westoby Courtesy White Cube

Harland MillerI Can Can I?2014

The works have been described by Penguin Random House chairman John Makison as expressing Penguin’s values, ‘especially that delicate balance of the dignified and the flippant’.

‘To me [the covers] have a historical feel, and just history has a dignified atmosphere doesn’t it’, says Miller in an interview for the White Cube show brochure.

Harland Miller Twelve Rounds with God 2014

Source: © Harland Miller Photo: Ben Westoby Courtesy White Cube

Harland MillerTwelve Rounds with God2014

However, he seems uncomfortable with the term ‘flippant’, preferring to see the paintings in relation to what he terms the ‘subversive’ nature of Penguin books when they were first published.

‘This was a time when the ruling classes didn’t want to see the classics in the hands of the workers’, he says.

‘One of the reasons I made some of the titles unacceptable as book titles in the literary world or the civilised world was to remind people of that subversive quality they once had – because, I mean, they’re seen as very cosy now aren’t they, like Beefeater gin or Marmite or red buses’.

Harland Miller Drawing of a South African Black-Footed Penguin 2014

Source: © Harland Miller Photo: Ben Westoby Courtesy White Cube

Harland MillerDrawing of a South African Black-Footed Penguin2014

You can find out more about Harland Miller’s work at http://www.harlandmiller.com/

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