Annalisa Merrilees

When are you going to make a real painting?

09.04.21 – 02.05.21

London Street, Edinburgh & online.

Install shot
'142', '290121', '170121', '221', '256'.
'142' detail
Install shot 2 Annalisa Merrilees
'280221', '128', '312', '59'.
Install shot, 3 Annalisa Merrilees
'7680', '060321', '142'.
'221', '256', '2562', '280221'.

Further curated works.

Exhibition Text

       Merrilees’ work hits you like a strong cup of coffee, bursting rich with flavour and tonal vibrancy. Her pieces hold you captive, the grids and lines repeating and shifting to create a symphony of visual abstraction that demands your attention. Through exploring texture, composition, and colour, Merrilees is continually working to develop a style that is entirely her own. Three years ago, Merrilees graduated from her fine arts program at the Gray’s School of Art. Like many arts programs, much of her preliminary training at university was dedicated to mastering the nuts and bolts of drawing and painting. There, students were taught to develop their skills through largely figurative means. 

While she loved the learning process, Merrilees wasn’t drawn to painting subjects from the real world, often getting bored halfway through her endeavours. Rather, it was the ephemeral and the intangible that peaked her interests. “Abstraction kept me more engaged,” she said with a chuckle on the phone.
As we chatted to each other on our respective sides of the globe (me, groggily sipping tea in Canada), I got to learn a little bit more about her unique artistic process. Part of Merrilees’ distinct brilliance is her ability to conjure beauty from chaos. When she is making a piece, she often uses a random number generator to help her allocate the patterns and colour placements, effectively removing herself from the artistic equation. “I do that to take the pressure off of the decisions. Early on in my work, I was finding that I would put the colours where I would want them to go – but I always thought it was too pretty to change. I’d think to myself, oh I quite like the look of that – but it’s not finished. Removing myself from that process, it gives the work more balance – or at least the opportunity to create a sense of balance.”

 When you look at Merrilees’ work, you begin to notice a certain propensity for linear repetition. Indeed, much of Merrilees’ work functions on a grid, an idea partially inspired by her self described obsession with sudoku puzzles. “I still do them,” she says with another laugh. “I’ve always enjoyed finding patterns, and it’s made its way into my paintings.” With a thoughtful pause, she continues: “the grid has stuck around, yeah. Although, I’ve been finding myself wanting to shift away from such sharp clean blocks. I’ve done a couple paintings now that don’t seem to have that grid structure. Even then, I seem to approach things with that 1×1 grid mentality. Instead of it being a painting, it’s a square. I find it can be daunting when you say, do a painting. For me, a grid is something I know how to work within.” 

One of my favourite elements of Merrilees’ work is her varied and fearless
approach to colour. The apparent vibrancy of her work is deliberate, and in some ways, a personal challenge that she has chosen to overcome. “Throughout my degree show – all of the work was in four pastel colours,” safe colours, as she calls them. “Now I try to stay away from using just pastels. Red used to really scare me, for a while I didn’t know how to handle it. But now, it’s becoming a more dominant colour in my work.” While Merrilees’s work can be compared to a variety of different abstract artists, both new and old, she herself has her own inspirations and favourites. Bridget Riley, Martin Creed, and Yayoi Kusama are just a few of the names she mentioned – all daring and impactful to the abstract canon in their own right. I myself am an ardent fan of Yayoi Kusama ’s. The giddy, unrelenting playfulness of Kusama’s work packs an unmistakable punch, forcing the viewer to reckon with their visual experience.

 “Art can be fun!” Merrilees exclaims, “paintings don’t have to be rigid or boring. Martin creed definitely made me want to make work that was more engaging to the general public.” I often find myself stewing over the accessibility of art, and how art is digested by the public. What would my grandmother think? What would YOUR grandmother think? As a recent graduate, I am plagued by a frame of reference that guides my artistic perception. There is an ever -present contextual framework that floats around my head, dictating any given artwork’s canonical position – an unavoidable side effect of my Art History MA. That said, I think there is a certain beauty and appeal to engaging with art through a purely aesthetic experiential lens. That is, to focus on a work’s immediate visual impact, free of context. Perhaps, to indulge the grand and somewhat decadent notion of art for art’s sake. I brought this up with Merrilees. Does she think art needs to have inherent meaning? “In the beginning,” she mulled, “getting into art, I suppose I did think art had to have a purpose and a message, but gradually that went away. 

A painting can be just a painting, if you like it, you like it! And if you don’t, that’s okay too. I think the ultimate goal is to make someone feel something. I don’t like speaking about my work too much, I don’t want to impose an idea.” It’s true, Merrilees seems to situate herself on the peripheries of her own work, masterfully decentring herself. When I asked how she felt her paintings related to her as a person, she took a long pause. “All of them are personal, because all of them involve a degree of intuition.” I suggested that she seemed removed from her work, but she had other thoughts. “Each work… they are all so full of me, it’s all right there, it’s all present. Maybe just not in an obvious way.” 

Words by Sophia Trisoglio.

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