Tanya Merrill Creates Whimsical Worlds

Ladies Choice is an ongoing series highlighting female artists working in New York City and beyond. This series honors the power and ingenuity of women in the arts. Women have traditionally received much less exposure and recognition in the art industry. In their support of one another, these women stand as a testament to furthering the careers of female artists.

Tanya Merrill paints in a trademark style where curved lines form figures and scenes that are as related to history as they are tongue-and-cheek. Her brushstrokes seem to have no beginning and end, existing on the surface while freely flowing off the page. Merrill’s works are chock-full of elements worth investigating, like puzzles asking to be solved. Merrill lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.

You are part of a young generation of female artists hustling and gaining recognition in NYC. What does being a part of a strong female community mean for you?

It’s everything! It would be impossible to do this thing alone.

Which female artists, living or dead, inspire you most?

If I’m feeling stuck I can usually count on Amelie Von Wolffen, Lee Lozano, Laura Owens, Tala Madani, Camille Henrot, (and so many others) to shake things up.

Have you experienced firsthand the underrepresentation of female artists in the art industry? Have you noticed a change in opportunities available for female artists since you first entered the art world?

I’m indebted to those who have pushed for equal opportunity before me and there is still so much to do. It is a powerful moment for female artists and my hope is it leads towards equality in gallery representation, museum shows and collections, and in the canon.

If you could change one thing about the current landscape for working female artists what would it be?

To get to a place where it is just artist, not female artist.

Can you discuss the relationship between drawing and painting in your work?

Everything starts with drawing for me. It is liberating that with simple material like a pencil and paper anything can happen. Spontaneity leads to surprise, something dark, humorous, suggestive, can unexpectedly take form and become the groundwork for a painting. I’m interested in translating the same formal qualities, the energy, surprise and playfulness, between media – how a painting can read and feel like a drawing.

From where do you draw inspiration? Your work incorporates a lot of old fashioned imagery yet feels very modern. Can you talk about this blend of new and old conventions and why you are interested in it?

I look to art history, film, religion, literature, pop culture and current events and, play with recognizable symbols and motifs to both critique and employ what I find. Identity and representation, power dynamics, both societal and in the natural world, the looming reality and implications of our changing environment- I can put big questions, fears, desires in a small painting and that’s compelling to me. It’s a way to talk about what I care about most in a visual language I am excited by.

How do you know when one of your works is complete?

It is kind of an elusive moment that has taken practice to recognize. For me a painting can have an urgent start where everything rushes in at once, or I will slowly build up an idea with a particular question to address and research at hand. Whatever the motive to begin, the rest of the internal process is usually the same. An image will form in my mind but it will be foggy and get stuck like a song when you can’t remember the words. There’s a great sense of clarity when the work is physically realized and stops nagging me with “what am I, what am I?”

I usually complete the bulk of a painting in one long sitting. I stop once the physical painting in front of me has overpowered the painting in my mind. While that may seem abstract, I think it’s a result of trying to stay conscious of the trial and error that came before – learning how to recognize faulty intuition, identifying when I’ve made a choice that felt right and committing it to memory.

What’s next for you? What are you excited about?

After a handful of group shows the past few months I’m excited working on these current paintings as a cohesive body of work, and continuing the dialogue with visitors and friends.

At the end of every interview, we like to ask the artist to recommend a friend whose work you love for us to interview next. Who would you suggest?

Emily Ludwig Shaffer (interview coming soon to Art of Choice!), Kyung Me, Hugh Hayden