Arts Review: Merlin James – Long Game

Merlin James, CCA, 22nd Jan – 20th March 2016

‘Long Game’ marks the first exhibition of the CCA’s 2016 gallery programme and features a collection of works by Glasgow-based artist, Merlin James. The works, which span over 30 years of James’ career, incorporate a wide range of techniques and subject matter. From a series of small, wooden model buildings to large-scale mixed-material paintings and abstracts, the collection is both innovative and dramatic.

Trying to determine a clear style or repetition of theme in the collection seems at first obvious – there is a clear preoccupation with colour and form and concern for medium rather than composition which encapsulates the sense of abstract realism that underlines James’ work. But actually pinpointing a sense of evolution across the collection proves difficult. Whilst some of the pieces have been reworked over several years, tying together themes and visual concepts, others seem completely juxtaposed to such continuation.

The certain evolution that can be seen in the works that focus on architecture in particular makes for a really interesting development in technique. In earlier works, James uses painting techniques and colour to create light contrasts. In his most recent large-scale landscape pieces he layers mesh over visible wooden frames to create physical depth, shadows and texture.

These paintings are interrupted however, for example by ocean scenes, which seem rather tranquil in comparison to the contrasting colours and forms in the more abstract pieces, and scenes of sexual intimacy, in which faceless bodies are evoked in almost neon-bright colours.

This punctuation connotes above all a sense of freedom. ‘Long Game’ is not constricted by expectations. It reflects a diverse and ongoing conversation about changing methods of translating thought onto canvas. James does not conform to pre-conceptions; instead he challenges his audience with original and diverse pieces that reflect his bold aesthetic.

[Anna MacKenzie –@annacjmackenzie]

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