Guest blog post by Paloma Mayorga
I clearly remember the first time I was entranced by the elaborate work of St. Louis-based lithographer and Print Santa Fe’s 5×5 selected artist, Emmett Merrill. PrintAustin Founder Cathy Savage and I were preparing for the online iteration of PrintEXPO in 2021, and Merrill’s whimsy captivated me as I selected images to include in the EXPO Guide. I was quickly distracted from my design project by the medley of objects and characters portrayed in his works, attempting to decipher the playful yet ominous scenes.
A flock of geese burst in through a bathroom window, a hollow-eyed creature peeps over a sheet on a clothesline, a tiny Mondrian painting lays scattered next to a gasoline can, a litho stone with the word “BAYOU” inscribed on its side, perhaps making reference to the infamous It Came From the Bayou! (judging from the Texas flag on the graphic tee of the main figure)? Though some of Merrill’s narratives make very specific references to his personal experiences with natural phenomena and literary works like Ghosts Along the Cumberland by William Montell, his compositions allow for our own imagination to take flight.
Stirred by imagery of the American landscape and the highway system as well as ghost stories and other folklore, Merrill’s work often depicts dynamics that take place when human-made spaces collide with nature. In Tornado, for instance, a woman goes about her makeup routine as nature literally barges in chaotically through her bathroom window while a miniature landscape composed of fallen trees in coffee cups and other domestic objects scattered around recall Merrill’s own close encounter with a tornado just outside of Nashville.
“I was driving from Chicago to Knoxville in the middle of the night in the Spring of 2020. It rained the whole time and all the while, even in the dark, there was this great black cloud, not even a cloud, maybe more a black mass, looming on the horizon. It was so black it made the night sky look blue. It followed my car for the whole nine hour drive. It only disappeared after I made it into the winding roads of the Smokey Mountains. The next morning, I put on NPR to learn about several tornados that touched down in Nashville only an hour or two after I drove through it.”
The artist builds his narrative by arranging and rearranging a collection of individual drawings he has premade on clear vellum. Much like creating a collage, he manipulates these drawings like a tattoo flash sheet, moving things around until he arrives at just the right composition. The language he creates through simple lines and soft and bright colors allow Merrill to touch on heavy subjects such as death, loss, and mourning in a subtle and tactful way. He utilizes ghosts, both literal and symbolic, as “catch-all” entities and plays with spacial definition and perspective by filling empty spaces on the paper with mundane objects that act like dingbats to tie the image together.
Merrill’s affinity for narrative and printmaking began at a young age. Raised in Kansas City, Missouri, Merrill grew up with two artist parents and spent time as a teen watching his father crank out stacks of drawings, and attending exhibitions at the Lawrence Lithography Workshop across the street. In an artist talk with Michele Leclaire of Buckham Gallery for his solo exhibition, titled Empty Road, Great Tornado, earlier this year, he shares his early encounters with works by Luis Jimenez, Elizabeth Layton, and Tom Huck, who he would later work for as a press assistant in St. Louis.
Now one of three artists who run Grafik House, a traditional printmaking studio in Downtown St. Louis, Merrill leads lithography workshops and continues to create his own prints. Learn more about Emmett Merrill, his unreal adventures transporting presses and other rare printmaking equipment, and the mentorships that fuel his art practice by checking out his recent interview with Miranda Metcalf for Hello, Print Friend:
You can also visit emmettmerrill.com or see his work in person at Zane Bennett Contemporary in Santa Fe from April 28 through June 17, 2023.
About the Exhibition
In its inaugural year, Print Santa Fe presents its first 5×5 juried exhibition during the month-long festival. Modeled after PrintAustin’s 5×5 exhibition, which started in 2021 as an online exhibit, five artists are selected based on a cohesive body of work made up of five print-based works. In 2023, PrintAustin added a new dynamic to the open call and had two jurors pulling from identical submissions, creating two separate exhibitions–one hosted by Link&Pin during PrintAustin, and the other to be presented at Zane Bennet Contemporary during the inaugural sister festival in April 2023.
Print Santa Fe’s 5×5 exhibition is juried by Print Santa Fe founder and host of Hello, Print Friend podcast, Miranda Metcalf, alongside Jordan Eddy of Zane Bennett Contemporary, and Isabella Beroutsos of Radius Books. The Print Santa Fe 5×5 presents an exciting group of printmakers on the rise who use the medium to conduct aesthetic investigations into cultural identity and complex histories.
Print Santa Fe partners with Miranda Metcalf and Reinaldo Zambrano of Hello, Print Friend and Jamal Barber of Studio Noize Podcast to conduct interviews with each of the selected artists to dive deeper into their artistic practice and inspiration behind their works.
Acting as the fiscal sponsor of Print Santa Fe, you can support our sister festival by making a donation to PrintAustin. Help us continue our artist-led efforts to share our love of printmaking and helping our sister festival grow!
Featured Image: Emmett Merrill, The Nightmare, 2020, Color Lithograph, 22” x 16”