statement - John Merrill

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My work is primarily influenced by three artistic movements:

Pop art - Because that was what was around when I was at school.  Art became more democratic and relevant.  There was an aesthetic in the ordinary and to work with silk screen and collage did not demand the skills of an old master.

Conceptualism -  Because the immediacy of pop art began to wear a bit thin.  It all became a bit superficial and I wanted something more challenging.  Conceptualism necessitated the engagement of the senses and the intellect.  

Surrealism - That a psychiatrist should be drawn to surrealism is no surprise but it is only recently that I have grappled with the theoretical basis of the movement and the contradictions within it. Surrealism engages the unconscious mind of both artist and viewer: the artist for the creation of the work, the viewer for its interpretation.  Photography is the perfect surrealistic medium.  A painting is recognised as a construct that may or may not approximate reality.  Unlike a painting, a photograph is assumed to be real - even when limited to the fundamentally unreal greyscale palette.  

My problem with conventional photography is that it denies imagination.  I try to exploit the assumption that photographs are snapshots of reality to engage and perplex the viewer.  I want my images to resonate at both conscious and unconscious levels.  Above all, they should defy simplistic interpretation.
Or at least that's what my work used to be about......  

One artform I eschewed was portraiture.  There is an enduring myth that a great portrait reveals hidden depths, even penetrating the soul of the subject.  But a portrait is a deceit: part how the subject wants to be seen, and part how the portraitist wants them to be seen. When we look at a face we are programmed by evolution to automatically make assumptions of character.  But those assumptions are nearly always wrong. The irony is that when we see what isn't there - depth, we ignore what is there - surface.  My research, "Portrait as Landscape" aims to derail the brain’s operating system to produce portraits that reveal unexplored surface terrain, the landscape of the face, unhindered by false perceptions of depth.  

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