I’m kind of (actually really really) pissed off at myself. Almost a full year ago Micheal Merrill had dueling shows at the McClure Gallery and the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal. I caught some bits of the show at the museum and not only saw the show at the McClure Gallery but also got a copy of the catalogue. Somehow I let things slide until now, and while to my mind reviews do not need to be timely, ten months after the fact is pushing the envelope slightly. But that’s not why I’m annoyed, as you might expect, it took me something like nine and half moths to read the catalogue and then upon reading it, I discovered that I seriously shot myself in the foot. While I am familiar with Mr. Merrill’s paintings of art storage spaces in galleries and museums, somehow I got really really dense and either wasn’t aware, didn’t care or completely spaced on the fact that the show at the McClure Gallery was twined with that at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal.
While I know it is possible to appreciate and enjoy one without the other, after reading the catalogue, I kind of slowly came to the realization that an opportunity had stared me right in the face and I blinked. Because I found out that there was not only a connection between the pieces of art by virtue of the fact that they were exhibited at the same time, but in fact were reflections of each other. My understanding is that while those at the museum were in full color and those at the McClure were in black and white the two sets were pretty much two versions of the same thing. Multiple views of scenes that you’re not normally allowed to see. And that’s why I’m pissed off at myself, it’s one thing to miss an opportunity, it’s a completely different thing to deliberately ignore something that stares you down.
I’m not quite 100% certain I know exactly what is involved in making an ink wash drawing, but on first blush it looks kind of simple. But then after looking at them a little closer, it becomes obvious that they aren’t as simple as all that. It’s not quite watercolor, and not quite straight pen and ink. The images themselves have a loose dreamlike feel to them, which is made somewhat spookier because of their dark nature. They are all images of the back rooms of the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal and the construction of the Bougie Pavillion. Apparently Mr. Merrill was able to cut some kind of deal with them whereby he got special access where more normal people aren’t allowed to venture. They are in parallel with some much more realistic paintings done in color using something called gouache vinylique for which I am unable to get a satisfactory translation. The gouache ones were the ones that were displayed at the museum.
When viewing the gouache paintings, I am reminded that it is principally Mr. Merrill’s hand and eye that cause any sort of subjectivity in the paintings. For the most part they (I presume) represent things fairly realistically. But the ink wash drawings have a whole different aura around them. While again, it is only Mr. Merrill’s eyes and hands creating the drawings, there is a sense that other forces (gravity, the physical reaction of the water on the paper, etc) that aren’t as tightly controlled were at work as well.
Depending on where you let your mind drift to while looking at the drawings there are an awful lot of allusions that can be made. From ghostly representations of hidden places to an attempt to recreate some kind of blurry black and white photographs. I find that the looseness of his lines lends an eerie and/or mystical sense to a subject that would normally be much more clinical. What you want to read into that sense is entirely up to you. I just think that they are kind of cool and made even cooler when you get a gander at the list of folks who already own them in the back of the catalogue.