Sikkema Jenkins & Co. is pleased to present an exhibition of paintings by Merlin James on view from June 22 through August 12, 2011.
James’ latest exhibition demonstrates the breadth of his practice, but also its complex coherence, interspersing recent works with ones from across his career (ranging back to the 1980s).
Recent paintings on semi-transparent supports, with quasi-traditional picture frames created by the artist and integral to the works, extend James’ long-standing exploration into the nature of painting. His various erotic, topographic, architectural and abstract ‘motifs’, and his sources in earlier art and photography, all remain in evidence, functioning both as elements of aesthetic experiment, and as a celebration of, and poetic – sometimes elegiac – testimony to, human experience of the world.
Writing in the forthcoming Vitamin P2 (Phiadon, London 2011), Morgan Falconer observes, of these often small works, that:
“…in scaling back, James has bravely – and ambitiously – forced painting to re-confront the limits that it has fought so hard to escape. He makes painting private, anecdotal, bourgeois-domestic once again, and yet compelling nonetheless.”
Yet some works in the present show are also larger scale, and offer illusions of vast distances and open space. Small vernacular buildings of uncertain vintage – mills, homesteads, small factories and city blocks – are scattered through James’ environments, sometimes suggesting dream- or memoryscapes, or vistas seen from a passing car or train.
James has written extensively on art, and he works, as Morgan Falconer notes:
“with an acute sense of the medium’s history. Over the past two decades or more, he has had a career as a writer and curator in addition to his life in the studio, and that effort of sifting and judging has fostered retrospection. Of course, his tradition is a very personal construction, and his greats – Jean Hélion, William Nicholson, Giorgio Morandi, and L. S. Lowry – are not the obvious ones. But James holds dear those painters who have often been cast into shadow by their grander rivals.”
Such factors have led James to be called ‘the most brilliant and playful contrarian of his generation’ (John Yau, Brooklyn Rail, July-August 2010). Yet the present show demonstrates that the artist’s motivation is not fundamentally negative or perverse. He pursues a unique poetic vision and restless interrogation of art and experience.
Merlin James was born in Cardiff, Wales and currently lives and works in Glasgow, Scotland.