YOU need a bit of chutzpah to make a living painting giant canvasses of old Penguin book covers. But then Harland Miller was born and bred in Yorkshire - he actually grew up right here in York - so he's not short of a bit of northern chippiness.

He later studied at the Chelsea School of Art, and went on to become an internationally acclaimed artist who has exhibited all over the world. But that Yorkshire upbringing has always influenced his work, the 55-year-old insists.

"I grew up in Yorkshire in the seventies – during the miners’ strike and the reign of the Yorkshire Ripper," he says.

"Looking back, these times seemed quite dark, quite literally when you had the power cuts too - though it never really struck you as a kid why, instead of watching telly, you were suddenly playing Monopoly by candle light with your family. It did bring people together though – as a family that is the only thing I remember us doing together."

Given these northern roots is only right that for his latest exhibition he should return to Yorkshire and to his home town of York. York Art Gallery has brought together more than 30 of Miller's works for its latest exhibition, which opens on Friday.

'Harland Miller: York, So Good They Named It Once' will feature some of the artist's best-known works alongside new paintings created especially for the exhibition. The works on show will include several of his ‘Penguin Book Covers’, inspired by dust jackets from the 1950s and 1960s, as well as some of the ‘Pelican Bad Weather Paintings’ which evoke the culture and geography of Yorkshire.

"It’s an honour to return to my hometown and show my work at York Art Gallery," Miller says. "I think it is true of most artists, that whatever success they’ve achieved in the wider world, the significance of having that recognised in their hometown or city is totally unique. There is both a historical and emotional context which cannot be manufactured for any other exhibition.”

It is also quite a coup for the art gallery. “We are thrilled Harland has chosen to host such a personal mid-career retrospective here with us in his home city," says the gallery's curator of fine art, Becky Gee. "Harland states that his Yorkshire roots continue to exert a strong influence on his work, and a tragicomic connection to place can be seen through this brilliant collection of paintings which celebrate his relationship to the city and county of his upbringing.”

The exhibition will be split into three sections shown over three galleries. These are:

Pelican Bad Weather Paintings

Pelican books - the non-fiction imprint of Penguin - were present in Miller’s childhood home: his dad collected old books, buying ‘lots’ from sale rooms, in the hope of finding a first edition among them. The ‘Pelican Bad Weather Paintings’, based on the dust jackets of these books, make references to the culture and geography of the North of England.

Many of the works are influenced by Yorkshire and its coastline - most notably the fishing and seaside towns around the Yorkshire coast, where the artist spent the summer holidays of his formative years.

Penguin Book Covers

Miller started painting book covers while living in Paris during the 1990s. At first, these were copies of French pulp novels from the 1950s for which he substituted titles relevant to his own experience such as International Lonely Guy. When Miller discovered a cardboard box of Penguin books outside an English bookshop near Notre Dame, however, he was inspired to create reproductions of the classic covers. Their beaten-up, damp-smelling dust jackets reminded him of his childhood and the weather in Northern England.

Letter Paintings and Recent Work

After finishing school, Miller enrolled on a number of A-Level courses to qualify for study at York School of Art. One of these was the History of Lettering, through which he discovered the allure of highly decorative, illuminated medieval manuscripts. These paintings feature single short words or acronyms made up of only two, three or four letters, overlaid on the canvas in a format inspired by medieval manuscripts. He brings a Pop Art sensibility to the work by featuring words such as ‘Up’, ‘Ace’ or ‘Luv’.

Stephen Lewis

Harland Miller: York, So Good They Named It Once, York Art Gallery, February 14-May 31