Michael Merrill


Michael Merrill: Duct 3 (2010), ink on paper: Images courtesy Galerie Roger Bellemare, Montreal. Photos: Guy L’Heureux.Michael Merrill: Duct 3 (2010), ink on paper: Images courtesy Galerie Roger Bellemare, Montreal. Photos: Guy L’Heureux.

By James D. Campbell

Michael Merrill
Galerie Roger Bellemare
Sept. 4 - Oct. 9, 2010

About a year ago, Michael Merrill began the "In-between Paintings" exhibited here. They are a salutary extension of his series entitled Paintings About Art that has been shown to acclaim in Montreal, Toronto, Germany and elsewhere over the course of the last few years. These recent works all deal with the new space that the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts opened when it acquired the Erskine and American United Church next door on Sherbrooke Street West, the result of a huge excavation beneath the museum.

These new works have the startling clarity and sensuous mien of Jasper Johns’ inks on plastic, although there is no stylistic reference whatsoever. Merrill’s procedure is straightforward – he tapes thick paper to a board, soaks it and then works with the drawing on a table or the floor with brushes (including airbrush) – but the resultant work is far from straightforward or documentary. These works are luminous and auratic in their apparitional presence, resonant in their shadowy wherewithal. This is remarkable, all the more so since, given the hit-or-miss nature of the medium, there are no preliminary sketches.

Michael Merrill: Scaffold 3 (2010): ink on paper.Michael Merrill: Scaffold 3 (2010): ink on paper.Having worked extensively in the past as a gallery technician to earn his daily bread, Merrill transformed this experience, like a happy Gnostic transforming merde into gold, into the medium-to-large ink-on-paper works exhibited here.

In a trio of startlingly sensuous inks, Ducts 1, 2 and 3, the inventory space of the museum is laid open like a vast shoulder of prime rib with savory results. Sundry racks, paintings on racks, vents and other structural features emerge from the background like a latticework web that catches us up in a wealth of tastily treated details. The ‘ducts’ become less utilitarian objects than tendrils of semiotic meaning. The work seems to tremble on the brink of dissolution, or better, auto-deconstruction, because of the uncertainty of representation and the nature of the medium.

Merrill was inspired by the watercolours of Elizabeth Galante, a fellow teacher at Visual Arts in Montreal. He said to me:

“I have been thinking that the drawings come out of an interest in combining the transparency of the line drawings that I was doing with painting. Watercolour seemed to be a way to do that. When I paint with oils, the wet-in-wet aspect seems to be specific to that kind of paint. Flashe demanded a more graphic style. Watercolour also has specific properties. Along the way, the project gets hijacked by immediate discoveries that have a lot to do with the materials. I also look for that experience of stepping out of what I know. There is also a reaction to the photographic questions that have preoccupied me for a while. I am still working from the photograph, but in a much more informal manner.”

These works demonstrate all the hallmarks of the restless genius that has informed and sustained Merrill’s work over the course of the last 40 years.

James D. CampbellJames D. Campbell is a writer on art and a curator based in Montreal. He is the author of well over 100 catalogues and books on art and artists. Upcoming and recent publications include monographs on painters Paul Bureau, Michel Daigneault and Mirana Zuger. Campbell also contributes frequently to many art magazines, including Frieze, Border Crossings, Canadian Art and others.