Nano Interview with Merill Comeau

It’s starting to look like spring! Squirrels are filling their little fat cheeks with dead leaves to build nests, baby green shoots are emerging from the soggy earth, and artists who dare make sense of the wonderful chaos of nature are enticing us to emerge from our long collective winter’s nap. If you want to feel the energy and excitement of the natural world be sure to check out Merill Comeau’s upcoming show at the Arnold Arboretum.

What artist do you most admire but work nothing like? Have you seen Amy Yoes work? She is a New York artist that does architectural installations — a kitchen in a residence in which nothing is at right angles and every single thing that moves makes a different sound — every drawer pulled out, every cabinet door opened. Someone working in that kitchen is making a sound symphony as well as a dance as well as a (I would think) glorious meal. She also does painting installations where she paints curlicues and ornamental flourishes on multiple planes in the same room — beautiful. I had the opportunity to hear her speak and have her visit my studio at the Vermont Studio Center. She was super helpful, I’m still working on some of her feedback she gave me and it is two years later. She was so approachable and friendly, too, a bonus!

If forced to choose, would you be a magic marker, a crayon, or a #2 pencil? Oh, can I be an HB pencil, please, pretty please. For me, the softer the lead the greater range of value in the line. If I go too long without drawing with soft lead, my hand actually aches to grip a pencil. I take great physical pleasure in being a design dinosaur — sketching and drafting by hand for my day job. If I ever have to learn CAD I’ll be out of a job.

How do you know when your work is done? My work is made up of hundreds of snippets of fabric: deconstructed clothing, old linens, and plastic net bags. Much of the fabric I stitch resist, paint, and print. Then I cut, combine, layer, cut again, reassemble. An advantage I have, I think, is that after such a long and involved phase of layout, I have a long phase of construction: sewing, sewing, sewing. The long process gives me plenty of time to do, edit and re-edit. The work is handled many, many times. I believe the final product embodies a level of human touch which is communicated to the viewer. I’m very picky about basic, 2-D concepts and can be quite critical and unsatisfied with my work. But that doesn’t make me unhappy. Being dissatisfied motivates me to do more, more, more.

What do you listen to while you create? I am a dedicated NPR listener. Art making is solitary, and the people contact through the radio connects me to the wider world. Also, I crave intellectual stimulation — there’s plenty to think about when you listen to NPR. My musical tastes are very broad. But when my energy flags, I listen to current dance music VERY LOUD. I LOVE to DANCE.

Spring, Summer, Winter or Fall? Fall, hands down. Fall is New England in all her glory. In the Fall I can work outside on the ground with out too many bugs!

Do you live with any animals? Oh yes, two daughters. Just kidding, hopefully they won’t read this. We have a girl golden retriever — so loving and kind you suspect her discernment. We have an elegant but standoff-ish black cat. And, our favorite — the perfect pet — a hamster, Scittles.

What are you currently reading? The Fabric of Cultures: Fashion, Identity, Globalization by Eugenia Paulice. Fabric and clothing from a social theory and sociological vantage point, very interesting. I love reading social theory because it results in “aha” moments. Elements of our culture, which are enmeshed in our everyday experience and so often under our radar, are zeroed in on, analyzed and spelled out for our understanding. There is an essay is this book about blue jeans: their history, identification, globalization of their manufacture, and speeded up consumer turn around. I found this essay particularly interesting as my latest piece, part of a series which explores the creation of the next Garden of Eden from the refuse of today, is made primarily from discarded jeans.

What’s the most surprising response to your art you’ve ever received? That mixing seventies plaid and eighties zebra print and English Toile together exhibits my lack of good taste. I think it was meant as a criticism but I thought it was such a funny (ha-ha humorous) perspective! It is fascinating how differently we all see visual things — the connotations and meanings verses color and shape. I also thought that was an interesting comment, considering I’ve paid my bills by being an interior designer for so many years. So don’t tell my clients about my bad taste.

Another surprising response: I was working at the National Park of the Old North Bridge in Concord on the ground on the edge of the Concord River. As I walked down the river, I fell into a sink hole of mud up to my knee. When I got to a good spot to work, I removed my boots and socks, washed them out in the river and hung them on branches to dry. I set out my tarp, stacks of fabric, lunch, etc. and worked all day. When I climbed back up to the bridge to leave, the Park Ranger told me busloads of tourists had been visiting all day. A group of women, seeing me down on the edge of the river, asked where to leave money for the homeless person (me).

Tree Pieces: Painted Collages by Merill Comeau
Arnold Arboretum Art Gallery
March 12-April 24, 2011
Reception with the artist: Saturday, March 12th from 1:00-3:00pm
Artist talk: Wednesday, March 30th from 6:30-8:00pm

Facebook: Merill Comeau Art Craft Design

Image credit: Photographs are by Merill Comeau. Detail shots are by Susan Byrne Photography.

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