A still life, a nude, a history painting, some dark interiors: the inventory of Merlin James’ new show of paintings at Mummery+Schnelle. The interiors are particularly strange, awkward clotted constructions seemingly held together with florescent strips of paint that suggest on the one hand the claustrophobic spaces of some psychodrama (like the luminous white cages that Francis Bacon used to imprison his turbid figures) and on the other hand the remnants of the once certain architecture of modern abstraction.
They are visual deconstructions of a painter’s language, in which the image is never free of association with artists and genres of the past (as he suggests in his reworking of George Stubbs’s horse and rider), but where the suggestion of meaning is constantly denied to us. The images remain unresolved yet self – sufficient, their surfaces composed of accidents and digressions whose starting point (sometimes twenty or more years ago) is barely discernible in the vestigial and ghostly structures now suspended within these small objects of densely worked matter. They remain perpetually on the verge of becoming.
This is painting as perpetual process – a medium moving compulsively forward into an uncertain future, leaving in its wake the barest trace of its historical origins in the once stable grammars of figuration and abstraction. It is the post modern condition, described by Jacques Derrida as one of archive fever; ‘It is’, he wrote, ‘never to rest, interminably, from searching for the archive right where it slips away’.