John Yau reviews Merlin James: Genre Paintings at Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York, on view through March 7, 2015.
Yau notes: "James seems to believe that painting is not about categorizing and possessing but about seeing and experiencing the inchoate, often disturbing feelings we face in the most ordinary of situations. He can reinvigorate a subject as stale as a full moon above a landscape and water. In 'Silver Birch' (2014-15), he divides the composition into distinct planes that oscillate between flatness and space. A slightly curving silver birch rises up from a blue plane, dividing the painting into two distinct realms, which feel connected but separate. The paradoxes feel necessary rather than artificial, arising from the recognition that reality is a puzzle in which the pieces do not fit together, even when they do… Everything seems to hover between form and dissolution, suggesting that reality is constantly slipping away. The level of specificity he attains in each painting surpasses mannerism and rhetoric, which are the limitations many painters, even good ones, never get past."