Merlin James: Long Game
Rare opportunity to view 30 years of work by remarkable Glasgow-based painter
Glasgow-based Merlin James is unusual in contemporary art circles in his unflinching commitment to the medium of paint, and unusual among painters in the way he is embraced by the contemporary art fraternity. His first major show in Scotland for more a decade is a rare chance to see the broad range of his oeuvre, including a selection of works on paper and the small sculptures he calls 'by-products'.
Though the paintings here span 30 years, the word 'retrospective' is unhelpful: James’ work is more cyclical than linear, returning, years later, to themes, motifs and often individual works. What is clear is that he is engaged with the 'long game' of painting, acknowledging its traditions and styles, while making his own way among them. There are landscapes, nudes, abstracts, here, even a wry nod, in Painter (red), to the figure of the landscape painter, en plein air, palette in hand.
His eye picks out seemingly unremarkable things – a JCB, a luggage carousel, an oddly shaped house – and he uses colour or an unexpected angle to make the familiar seem unfamiliar. There are echoes of Peter Doig in his evocations of places never quite identified, moments left unexplained. He deconstructs the medium, cutting into the canvas, building out from it, or dispensing with it altogether and working on gauze stretched across the frame. Yet his commitment to the business of painting remains undiminished.
CCA Glasgow, until Sat 13 Mar.