Merill Comeau – Bloom

23 May – 22 August 2009

     Merill Comeau, River's Edge II

Merill Comeau is a wonder with fabric, using it the way a painter uses color and texture. The work in this show is replete with themes of decline, regeneration, and “bloom.” She considers her pieces to be autobiographical, writing that she uses “imagery from nature to symbolize my life and express a shared human experience.” Botanical themes become elegant metaphors for a life that has chaos, beauty and death. Delighting in the chaotic beauty of the natural world, Merill writes that she tries “to make sense of apparent disorder, to marvel at unpredictability and randomness,…”

Merill begins her work outdoors, finding places that resonate with her personal aesthetic. She begins by sketching in colored pencils and taking photographs, then takes these studies back to the studio and searches through her library of fabrics until she finds a variety of suitable colors and textures. She will then alter the fabric by painting and stamping it with shapes and colors that express the scene she is working on. Sometimes she takes the work in progress back to the site to revise and rework. Topstitching often works as a drawing tool to add fine layers of detail.

Her work explodes in a riot of color-tumultuous displays of greens and oranges, purples and browns, patterns and botanical forms. Her constant play with the tension between foreground and background is particularly evident in Out My Window, Dusk, in which there are pieces of sky seen through tree branches. If you look, some of the fabric sky is printed with fish. How do swimming fish become sky? Also look at Spring Sprang, where nautical rope, a busy pattern, functions as background. These are visual problems that Merill sets out for herself to solve, and the tension this creates makes the work all the more interesting.

Perhaps Merill’s most famous piece is Earl Nil, as it has been shown in various galleries and is very much in demand. An homage to her father, it is graphically an incredibly strong image. The huge old gnarly tree regally dominates the space around it. It sparkles and glistens, and the colors you find upon close examination, umbers and viridians, ochres and siennas, combine with the rich panoply of fabrics to enhance what strikes me as the rich pageantry of the universe encapsulated in a single, wondrous old tree.

Merill recently went on a month long artist’s residency at the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, Vermont, that inspired her to break away from the tyranny of the picture frame. In pieces like Kristen’s Rags I and II, and more so in Rod’s Shirt Rebirth I, the edges of the frame begin to dissolve as botanical elements refuse to be confined by the rectangle. The majority of Kristen’s Rags I and II are made up of painter’s rags and the sumptuous ceruleans, ultramarines, and cadmiums that permeate their fibers.

The Groton Public Library is currently working with Merill to create a fabric mural for the library. We received Massachusetts Cultural Council funding and held a series of workshops in May that involved the community to create the ideas for this mural that express the concept of “Open to All” (as seen on the rear entrance) in fabric and color. We applied for but did not receive the Bruce J. Anderson grant—therefore, we will look for other sources of funding for the completion of the mural.

Deborah Santoro

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Groton Cultural Council, the Groton Public Library Endowment Trust and the Groton Trust Funds’ Lecture Fund.

Merill Comeau, Crab Apple
Merill Comeau, Maple
Merill Comeau,
River's Edge I