Kent Merriman Jr. is the Calgary-based emerging artist featured in the 9th installment of Glenbow’s ongoing One New Work series, curated by award-winning senior art critic, arts journalist and independent curator Nancy Tousley.
This interview between Nancy and Kent was conducted in May 2019 in preparation for the exhibition.
If you are inspired and want to know more after reading this interview, join Kent and Nancy at our Salon Series night on July 24 where they will continue to explore ideas related to Kent’s work. Tickets available here.
NT: Do you consider yourself to be a realist painter?
KM: Yes, definitely. I stick with the traditional component of painting for the most part. And I take the information from what I see. The paintings have a naturalistic quality. I might not like all the marks I see, but I still honour them by painting them because they are there and I represent the subject matter truthfully
NT: What attracts you to the subject matter?
KM: It’s mostly just things from the past or things that I have seen before that are able to convey the message that I feel I want to present. I never look at something and think “This is something that I want to paint.” It’s something that I feel I could use as a metaphor or something that came from a past experience that will relay a certain message that might not have anything to do with what I’m actually seeing.
NT: Behind these paintings is there an existing object that you copy or work from, or is the composition a composite image?
KM: I take so much in when I’m staring at these things, I kind of get lost in them. It becomes photographic in my mind. I know exactly what it is that I want to paint. I sometimes will go back to the exact thing that I was looking at and study it a little bit more, or I’ll take photos of certain different parts. But, for the most part, it just comes from my head.
NT: So you might have photos to consult when you’re working on a detail?
KM: Exactly. A detail or something up close, just to make sure that I’ve got what I need exactly where I want it to be.
NT: And what is the message?
KM: In the past, it’s been about quitting. It’s been about humiliation. It’s been about history, slight trauma, or just messages about growing up. I don’t really want to get into this. The best part of being a writer or an artist is you can talk about anything you feel at the time. I’ll put those messages in there, but they’ll be so hidden you’ll never even know they’re there. But I know that they’re there. It’s kind of like wearing a t-shirt with a sweater over top of it, but nobody knows what the shirt says underneath it. But you know you’re wearing it.
NT: Someone might infer that because the things you make paintings of are beat-up, impoverished, abject objects, which suggest marginal places like back alleys, that there is some kind of social commentary going on.
KM: To be honest with you, not so much. I think they come from alleys because most of the objects that I relate to are disregarded, and they just end up in alleys and places like that.
NT: Where does your attraction to the discarded and disregarded come from?
KM: I think there’s something interesting about seeing something that has been used and put aside, and it’s like it’s almost just sitting there to die, in a sense. And then, when you paint them, it gives them a second life. I almost have feelings for these things in a strange way.
NT: How do you feel about making something out of paint that looks really real? Are you trying to fool the eye and deceive the viewer?
KM: I’d say I’m not, believe it or not, not so much interested in tricking or fooling the eye as I used to be. The objects become important because they’re painted (made of paint). So people will obviously want to take a closer look at them. But no, I’m not so much into fooling the eye, I think that the idea is more important. So it’s up to me to perform better as a painter. The materiality for me is almost a bonus.
One New Work: Kent Merriman Jr.: Remnants will be on view at Glenbow until September 15, 2019.
Learn more about Merriman’s unique and labour-intensive artistic approach from the artist himself at the Salon evening on July 24.
Banner Image credit: Kent Merriman Jr., Peepshow, 2015