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Merlin James & Per Kirkeby

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Dan Coombs reviews two London painting exhibitions: Merlin James at Parasol Unit (through August 10) and Per Kirkeby at Michael Werner (through July 27).

Coombs writes: "In a world of spectacular logic there’s something refreshing about a painter who refuses to pin down his subjects. Letting the motifs of his work emerge, as if by magic, from the formal matrix of his paintings, Merlin James risks whimsicality but instead finds something new in the easily forgotten. Like a burnished coin found in the crevice of a pocket James’s paintings have an almost uncanny familiarity, as though we are rediscovering something previously kept hidden. His boats, his trees, his chugging trains and lolling bridges are fleetingly familiar, like memories, landmarks on a journey through an intricate mental landscape… Kirkeby’s subject is the raw presence of nature, and presence is his forte; presence, fullness and fecundity are everywhere. The paintings have a presentness that is almost Byzantine in its mosaic of gestures, and it is therefore somewhat predictable in the massive Untitled (2013) , the largest painting in the show, to see a snake slithering along the floor, and then to notice emerging heads, perhaps of Adam and Eve and to the left perhaps the profile of God. It’s not that the work is not impressive. Like an opera, it tries to blow you away with its heightened gestures. Yet it feels strangely theatrical despite the obvious striving for authenticity."

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