Reading in Bed
acrylic/mixed media on canvas

Blijkt toeval bij de meeste mensen niet geloofwaardig te zijn als het in onze eigen geschiedenis het pad kruist, bij de kunstenares Mernet Larsen (USA 1940) was het, wat mij betreft; een ontmoeting die aansloot bij haar ( en mijn) belangstelling voor de vijftiende eeuwse Italiaanse schilderkunst, met name voor Giovanni di Paolo, kunstenaar die atypisch werk afleverde waarin de inhoud een eigenzinnige opvatting omtrent de weg tussen droom en werkelijkheid weergaf, en het zo geroemde perspectief van de renaissance ondergeschikt bleef aan een heel persoonlijke ervaring die in de vormgeving al sterk aan het expressionisme en het surrealisme deed denken. Een inspiratiebron voor deze kunstenares, Mernet Larsen? Ik laat het haar zelf vertellen. Je kunt altijd ondertiteling NL inschakelen.

In “Situation Room (Scissors, Rocks, Paper)” (2018), Larsen extends the premise of reverse perspective into a territory that has not been explored by anyone else in contemporary art. The row of figures on one side of the table is uniformly upright and facing in one direction, while their forearms and hands rest on the table at an opposing angle. The row of figures on the other side of the long, narrow conference table is upside down, their faces and hands pointed straight ahead. No one is looking at anyone else. Independent of their heads, the two sets of hands on opposite sides of the table are engaged in playing the ancient child’s game in the painting’s title.

Situation Room with Angst
Acrylic and mixed media on canvas
152.4 x 170.2 cm
Acrylic on canvas
149.9 x 101.6 cm

There are a handful of constants in Larsen’s work. The first is the use of reverse perspective, in which things that are farther away appear larger than things that are closer. The second is that all the figures are transformed into geometric forms, so that every part of the body is treated as a distinct entity, each seemingly carved from wood. Heads are depicted as block-like forms with faces depicted on one side, while noses are rendered as sharp triangular planes jutting out from the face. The third is that Larsen pictorially manipulates the body as if it were a sectioned puppet, with every part capable of performing action that ostensibly conforms to its geometric structure. Within this schema, when a back is curved, the figure’s posture becomes extraordinary in its ordinariness. Working under these extreme self-imposed restraints, Larsen focuses attention on a wide range of banal human gestures.(Jasmin Weber Hyperallergic)

Walk on a Windy Day
Acrylic, mixed media on canvas

When I was young, we thought art was progressing. Everyone was vying to be on the cutting edge, and to define the trajectory of art history. Now art is understood as a network, and people seem more interested in the synchronic fabric of art, how everyone is intersecting. What node you or others are on this web. There seems less at stake; people seem less a part of a greater cause, and more concerned with their own ability to find a niche. On the other hand, artists seem to have much more freedom to carve out their own eccentric territory. There is much greater interest in the world, socially and politically. Art used to be much more about the self: private or archetypal. We used to worry about posterity.

Now artists worry about relevance. Nonetheless, in talking with students over the years, in some basic ways nothing has changed: most artists want immortality, fame and glory, depth and significance, originality and self-realization. When I was young, it seemed a liability that my work did not conform to any school of thought; now that seems an asset

Oil on canvas
122.6 x 126 cm

I try to evoke a sense of permanence, solidity, weight: time stopped, essences of ordinary events made tangible. As if I were leaving this life and had to take with me only a few very concrete images, filtered through wry detachment. Not ephemeral, but memory turned into object, monumentalized. However, I understand these paintings as makeshift contraptions, statements of recognition that essences-and memory-must be constructed, invented, not uncovered.

This painted world must be obviously artificial. It reaches toward, not from, life. The characters and objects are geometric solids, their structures and proportions reinvented in tension with the event depicted. Components are disassembled, reassembled so that the actions are non-organic collaborations of parts. (I often paint the elements separately on tracing paper, try out different noses, heads, hands—, then paste them on). I want the mechanisms of my paintings to be fully visible, each painting an index of my painting behavior: measuring, layering, carving, texturing, coloring, pasting.

Café 2012

I want nonspecific viewpoints, a sense of vertigo, so that you are holding each situation in your mind almost as if you are wearing it. Renaissance, isometric, and reverse perspectives interact, visible as systems, not illusions. Structures are often inspired by the paintings of El Lissitsky, Japanese 12th century narrative painting, Chinese landscape painting, and the palace paintings in Udaipur, India. My hope is that the paintings will turn each event depicted into a singular, object-like entity, rather than forms arranged in space. A committee meeting, for example, should demand an entirely different pictorial structure than shoppers in a mall.

Acrylic and mixed media on canvas
50 x 60 in.
127 x 152.4 cm

Larsen refers to her depictions as “analogs” rather than “representations,” seeing as they are constructed in the mind, not observed with the eye. “I think the idea sort of started with Roland Barthes and some things that he wrote about Japanese art,” said Larsen. “The idea is that in Japanese theater, the puppets weren’t little imitations of people, they were actually something that ran parallel to people. They weren’t little fetishes of people. There were other kinds of structures that were performed like people but in analogous ways, rather than imitative ways.”

acrylic, tracing paper, oil on canvas

Because of the geometric semblance of Larsen’s pictorial world, it’s often associated with the alienation and digital dependence of contemporary life. While Larsen doesn’t object to this reading, it was never her intention. “People often look at the works and say, “Oh, these look like computer generated images.” But if you look at them, they have no system like that. There’s no adherence to anatomy. The structures give you enough clues to think they’re conventional figures, but when you look at them, they’re not. They’re just structures. They’re structures that work in an analogous way to people and situations you recognize, but they get at some more essential quality and they also defamiliarize with conventions. You are able to see them in a fresh way, hopefully.” (Priscilla Frank Huffpost 2017)

Acrylic and mixed media on canvas
174 x 156.2 cm

A lot of people look at my paintings and see alienation because of the geometry, but I always see them as somewhat humorous and somewhat warm, in a very quietly warm way. I’m not about trying to convey alienation. I’m just trying to say here it is. This is the way it is. It’s sort of strange, let’s stop and think about it. It’s sort of funny but it’s not moving and emotional or alienatingly horrible or something. It just sort of is.” (Priscilla Frank Huffpost 2017)

Acrylic and mixed media on canvas
165.1 x 134.6 cm

Mernet Larsen, “Explanation,” 2007.
Sound in the Night

I’ve never even seen a computer game, much less worked with computer-generated imagery. I play perversely with reverse, Western, parallel perspective to disorient, not to set up another form of orientation. My characters are reconstructed into impossible constructions and expressive proportions. I see them as analogues to experienced reality, not as mechanical simplifications or dehumanization of the physical world. They have much more in common with early 15th Century Italian art, Byzantine Icons, Japanese narrative scrolls, or even some outsider art!

acrylic/mix/med on canvas

Mernet Larsen (b. 1940, Houghton, Michigan) has exhibited extensively since the late 1970s and has been the subject of over thirty solo exhibitions, including Mernet Larsen: The Ordinary, Reoriented, Akron Art Museum, 2019, and Getting Measured: Mernet Larsen, 1957-2017, Tampa Museum of Art, 2017. She has been featured in more than seventy group exhibitions, including presentations at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington D.C., the American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, NY and multiple other exhibitions in London and New York. Her work is in numerous collections, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston MA; and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN among others. Larsen received her BFA from the University of Florida, and her MFA from Indiana University. She lives and works between Tampa, Florida and Jackson Heights, New York. (James Cohan gallery)

Acryiic and mixed media on canvas
162.6 x 127.6 cm

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