July 10, 2011

Merlin James: Secret world

Merlin James, "5:30 AM," 2011, acrylic on polyester, wood, beaded necklace in wood frame, 17.5 x 23.375"
Merlin James, "Night," 2011, acrylic on polyester, wood, metal in wood frame, 20.5 x 26.5"

In his current show at Sikkema Jenkins, Merlin James presents handcrafted relief-like objects that look like the backs of framed canvases. The stretchers are covered with translucent polyester onto which James has painted small landscape scenes. Then, behind the polyester, he has inserted little items that look as though they might have been the architectural models for earlier paintings. The paint handling, subject matter and color are reminiscent of decorative tole painting from the 1800s, and may appear at first to be simple, if not-so-meticulous, craft projects. But on closer examination, these pieces are quirkier, smarter and more complex, conjuring, in their apparent reverse perspective, a secret world behind the canvas, and, more broadly, the civilization embedded in geography.

James's 2008 exhibition at Sikkema Jenkins featured small-scale paintings based on model buildings that he made out of wood scraps and other materials lying around the studio floor. The models were both a byproduct and a tool in his earlier work. In this show, by interspersing more traditional older paintings made throughout James's career (some as far back as the 1980s) with his inventive new work, he underscores the notion that an image is simply one superficial coordinate. His new direction is bold and thought-provoking, but after his lifelong commitment to painting, I hope James doesn't move more firmly toward the third dimension, eliminating paint altogether.

 Merlin James, "Night," 2011, detail.

 Merlin James, "Night," 2011, detail.

Merlin James, "Night," 2011, detail.

"Merlin James," Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York, NY. Through August 12, 201.

Related posts:
Merlin James' elusive architecture (2007)
The French connection at Cheim & Read (2010)
The artist's signature: Recto or verso (2010)

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