Sultan writes that the show "was a wonderful surprise for me ... I hadn't seen his work before, and when I looked at the show online it seemed to me to be too much of a grab bag of styles and ideas and subject matter and form; this made it look as though it were held together solely by an intellectual construct, a theoretical way of approaching painting, a high-handed cleverness. Oh, how wrong my assessment was! I have several times been disappointed by seeing work in person that I very much liked online, but I don't remember such a turnabout from skepticism to love when in front of actual work. It is the quality of the paint––its searched-for texture and touch––and the artist's sensibility, that pulls it all together into a celebration of painting."
Yau notes: "James seems to believe that painting is not about categorizing and possessing but about seeing and experiencing the inchoate, often disturbing feelings we face in the most ordinary of situations. He can reinvigorate a subject as stale as a full moon above a landscape and water. In 'Silver Birch' (2014-15), he divides the composition into distinct planes that oscillate between flatness and space. A slightly curving silver birch rises up from a blue plane, dividing the painting into two distinct realms, which feel connected but separate. The paradoxes feel necessary rather than artificial, arising from the recognition that reality is a puzzle in which the pieces do not fit together, even when they do... Everything seems to hover between form and dissolution, suggesting that reality is constantly slipping away. The level of specificity he attains in each painting surpasses mannerism and rhetoric, which are the limitations many painters, even good ones, never get past."
Dan Coombs reviews two London painting exhibitions: Merlin James at Parasol Unit (through August 10) and Per Kirkeby at Michael Werner (through July 27).
Coombs writes: "In a world of spectacular logic there’s something refreshing about a painter who refuses to pin down his subjects. Letting the motifs of his work emerge, as if by magic, from the formal matrix of his paintings, Merlin James risks whimsicality but instead finds something new in the easily forgotten. Like a burnished coin found in the crevice of a pocket James’s paintings have an almost uncanny familiarity, as though we are rediscovering something previously kept hidden. His boats, his trees, his chugging trains and lolling bridges are fleetingly familiar, like memories, landmarks on a journey through an intricate mental landscape... Kirkeby’s subject is the raw presence of nature, and presence is his forte; presence, fullness and fecundity are everywhere. The paintings have a presentness that is almost Byzantine in its mosaic of gestures, and it is therefore somewhat predictable in the massive Untitled (2013) , the largest painting in the show, to see a snake slithering along the floor, and then to notice emerging heads, perhaps of Adam and Eve and to the left perhaps the profile of God. It’s not that the work is not impressive. Like an opera, it tries to blow you away with its heightened gestures. Yet it feels strangely theatrical despite the obvious striving for authenticity."
Patrick Neal reports on the recent panel discussion “… towards meaning in a plural painting world,” moderated by Katy Siegel at Hunter College. The panel including Raphael Rubinstein, Merlin James, Dana Schutz, Richard Shiff, and moderator Siegel, set out to: "examine the condition of painting in its contemporary context... [to] discuss whether the current plurality in painting dilutes meaning, or if it is just a case of many people doing many interesting things. How do we advance meaning given the plethora of dispersed, diverse, yet all seemingly functional approaches? Is the basic idea of advancement even a useful paradigm anymore? These issues will be explored with the aim of presenting a more critical dialogue about work made with paint."
Neal notes that "A consensus emerged that painting’s intrinsic qualities, as an infinitely plastic medium, are what give it strength. Shiff mentioned how close painting is to thinking, a very immediate process that is hand and body oriented but can also assimilate other technologies. Because its mechanics are so simple, painting allows for tremendous inventive freedom, and may for that reason be spawning so many of the hybrid offerings we have today. He mentioned R.H. Quaytman as an example of a painter maintaining an ongoing historical dialogue while broaching new ground as well. Likewise, James mentioned the artist Soutine, whose work could be perceived as political, but those passions are subsumed into the warp and weft of his paint handling."
Photo blog of images from an exhibition of paintings by Merlin James at Kerlin Gallery, Dublin, on view through November 24, 2012.
The gallery notes that James "continues to paint on canvas, frequently using hair, sawdust and other unconventional substances as well as paint. Works may be apparently abstract, or may feature diverse ‘subjects’ – heads, animals, emblematic figures, canals, bridges, skies. Small vernacular buildings of uncertain vintage – mills, homesteads, old factories, tower-blocks – are often scattered through James’ pictures, either as representations in paint or as miniature ‘model’ buildings made from wood off-cuts and fragments and physically incorporated into the work. Expansive spaces are evoked, and the vistas can suggest dream- or memoryscapes, or landscapes seen in passing."
Sharon Butler blogs about the exhibition Merlin James on view at Sikkema Jenkins through August 12, 2011. Butler writes that James' new works are "handcrafted relief-like objects that look like the backs of framed canvases..." She adds that they are "[quirky, smart and complex], conjuring, in their apparent reverse perspective, a secret world behind the canvas, and, more broadly, the civilization embedded in geography."
Edited by artist Brett Baker, Painters' Table highlights writing from the painting blogosphere as it is published and serves as a platform for exploring blogs that focus primarily on the subject of painting.