Studio Visit with Merrill Wagner

We had the pleasure of meeting Merrill Wagner with her studio manager Lilly Pendry in Wagner’s NYC studio on October 7th. With Lilly’s assistance, Merrill recounted her amazing journey as an artist, and how she herself and her art have developed through the years. From her earlier pieces focusing on her tape process like Untitled (1978), or the differences between colors from different companies, like 6 Brands of Naples Yellow (2009), to her works completed on found items like slate, steel, and stone, Wagner has always fixated on the element of change. Whether the “change” included the factor of time, deterioration, differences across the board, or the varying use of geometric shapes, Merrill has shown an appreciation for element of change, and has used abstracted nature as her vehicle of expression.

During the interview, Merrill added that she because of the found material that she uses, she is able to see the wear and tear of her pieces. The deterioration adds to the history of the piece, and she is able to continue her studies of variations of color and shape over time. Wagner also mentioned that she does not paint from any direct source material, and that her pieces are strictly sourced from her thoughts and her own inspiration. By basing her pieces from her own experiences and thoughts, she is allowing her application and compositions to have more room to display change and variation.

As I have previously mentioned, I work very closely a with a distinct narrative and system, and I aim to create rhyme and reason in all of pieces, even though they vary in subject matter. I think it’s really interesting to see an artist working to study an idea over time with differing processes and still achieve the same or similar goal. When I look at my work I am able to see the distinct rules, systems, and thoughts that have been choreographed to match the specific, targeted narrative, and I use a medium that fits the system. Merrill’s work uses the differences in her “canvases”, color variation, and application to explore change, to see how it grows and develops, and doesn’t ask the medium to follow a specific set of rules, nor does the subject matter or even the narrative. It’s all based on Merrill’s objective to understand, study, and see development over time. Although Merrill’s style and approach varies greatly from my own, I can appreciate and learn from her experiences and pieces because of her intuitive process.