Merlin James “Paintings” at Raucci/Santamaria Studio Project, Milan
In the works of Merlin James, the practice of painting lies in the wake of the finest modern pictorial tradition, yet if we try to understand his oeuvre exclusively through the lens of the history of painting, this could lead to mistaken assessments. Aside from this interpretative aspect, his works offer us a unique visual experience that gives us a profound contemporary awareness of the artist and his penchant to overcome all references to previous artists and exercises in style or manner. James’s work does not show an attitude of exclusive devotion for the great pictorial tradition, nor does it aim to stimulate specious critical intents. Instead, his works contain a profound analytical knowledge of painting and a spontaneous desire to investigate its techniques and expressions. The works on display have various subjects: figurative, abstract or tactile. And construction of the paintings is animated by the use of different materials, some of which are not strictly tied to the canonical use of painting. In their formal diversity, this series of subjects gives us a sense of familiarity and mystery, of intimacy and enigma, in an oxymoron that is only seemingly unreconciled.
The choice of composition, colours, and the way they are applied to the canvas, through interplays of lines, lights and shadows, and different textures converge to generate a series of elements that move apart or approach each other – as well as the observer’s gaze. Examined closely, they lead us to abandon the two-dimensional perception of the painting and, with their intensity of form and colour, they pull us towards a three-dimensional space.
The evanescence of the images and the forms that delicately emerge from splotches of colour or are generated by the contiguity of a chromatic palette is by no means random. The composition of each image, the definition of details, and the light and atmosphere they offer us require the mastery of technique and precision distinctive of well-established pictorial skill.
The outcome is a direct visual experience and it opens up to new dimensions: the painting is naturally a window, but it is open on so many possible levels. The loss of two-dimensional coordinates in the painting effectively becomes literal in some cases: it acquires the value of an object and is constructed – or, rather, reconstructed – by reusing parts of other paintings or even reassembling parts of frames used previously for other works. In some cases, the artist pierces the canvas, allowing the observer to glimpse the support on which it is stretched or to peer at the wall on which it is hung. In other cases, he constructs frames in which the canvas is replaced by light, transparent materials. In this case, the painting – with only a few touches of colour – reveals the structure of the frame underneath, which becomes an effective and basic part of the work of art, thus crossing the boundary between painting and sculpture. In the practice of doing, these works go through lengthy assembly and reworking phases. At times, James takes a scrap of canvas from a previously painted picture to add it to another one, in a long interplay of scraps, holes and stitching, or he goes back to the same painting over and over, adding new touches or repainting it completely. The sacredness and timelessness of the artwork is thus subtly called into question. Everything in the world is subject to processes of change or deterioration, remodelling and ageing, and James shows little concern for saving his own works from this fate, favouring the construction and design phases or the aspects rooted within his pictures in the constant development of his painting.
at Raucci/Santamaria Studio Project, Milan
until 30 April 2017