The Paintings of Sarah Merry
(Voted as Critics at Large
best of 2017 critical essay)
by Donald Brackett
(To read the full essay on desktop, click here.)
Content in conversation. Frozen music. Architecture of dreams. A world inside the world. Where Sarah Merry lives. She moves from landscapes to mindscapes and back again, with the ease and finesse of a seasoned traveler through fields of vision. There is no map needed to follow her work, just a readiness for the next journey beyond borders.
Nature is somehow supernatural in Merry’s works. Generally full to bursting with wide open spaces and immense distances, her gentle impressions and bold expressions both hinge on an awareness of a certain kind of quiet sacredness; not a sacred separate from nature - it is an earthy sacred.
Merry’s images are not exactly places, or locations, or situations. To me they are more like states: provisional and conditional pictorial experiences which represent flux. Sometimes they represent flux realistically and representationally, other times they represent flux at the sub-atomic or quantum level, where form and content are allowed to dance together with considerable abandon. Every one of them is basically a constellation of one kind or another.
One of the ingredients in the mix that makes this artist worth following and collecting is the fact that in addition to working in a self-directed manner on images that resonate for her specific aesthetic, she is never going to make a work for someone that runs contrary to her own ethos, which holds her in good stead when she returns to her instinctive process. She is an active explorer of her own artistic unconscious: an artist who can command the impulses and drives that consume and direct her to a constructive purpose, that of communication with the larger cultural world, with other people and eventually with art history itself, who will succeed regardless of the outcomes or challenges she encounters.
What her paintings abandon is not artistic restraint, since they are all consistently rigorous, meticulous, disciplined and almost stately; instead what they abandon is the conceptually fenced in categories of art history which are often mistakenly imposed on artists who are tricked into satisfying our own conventional expectations of what a painting is, what it looks like, what it should do for us and to us.
Merry’s particular kind of boundarylessness is what we call biomorphic abstraction, and a fine example of it can be seen in Micropose, one of the paintings I personally consider to be one of her finest pieces of work, perhaps because it so well articulates the key continuity aspect I’ve witnessed in her overall oeuvre. From the appropriate aerial distance, Micropose offers us a prime example of what I’ve identified as her pictorial suppleness. Its bold gestural stance clearly is a raw retinal celebration of expressionistic colours and pure form encountered as content; a biomorphic form which also resembles for me a landscape viewed from the height of a jet airplane passing over and across rivers, fields, towns, roads, buildings, and anything else we may wish to hallucinate while engaging in my favourite pass time when dealing with great painters and fine painting: Reverie.