Tanya Merrill

I see painting not as a window into another world, but as a mirror to reflect our world and ourselves back to us. Humor and violence have a long history of working hand in hand as means of dynamic storytelling in attempt to arrive at a truth or moral. I’m interested in utilizing this tool to address contemporary power dynamics, our natural world and changing environment, and personhood and identity, in the attempt to make sense of current events and the human experience. The painting is a set stage and the characters are symbols, developed from art history, religion, film, literature, and pop culture.

Writing adds a dynamic layer to my internal process of formulating what I am painting, why I am painting it, and how it is relevant today. The following creative texts I am sharing with you function as my artist statement. While they are not an ultimate conclusion of what each painting came to be, like the traditional artist statement they may provide insight into the ideas I am interested in engaging with and challenging through my artwork.


The Bathers

There are bathers here like every bathing painting throughout art history. The idealized nude and landscape is a human invention, Adam and Eve and the snake. Everything has been domesticated; these are pets now, not wild animals. Even the word “pet” raises some questions. It can mean “tamed and kept for pleasure”, or  “a person treated with special favor, especially in a way that others regard as unfair”, or to “engage in sexually stimulating caressing and touching.” Hmmm.

The people too are pets and just want to throw the ball and catch, and expect the snake, cat and dogs to act their part. Coy, evil, sensual, dumb. Each symbol lives in the four corners of the painting like a playing card, the king and queen, centered and doubled, reflected in the water and clouds, it’s a game to play.

Spring is budding and buzzing and bubbling bright green, ripe and drooling, the dog pees a golden fountain across the sky like little Manneken Pis in Brussels. My ears perk up when anyone says, “So the legend goes…” and I’m swept off my feet looking at the painting Cezanne made as an homage to Delacroix, The apotheosis of Delacroix, his body floating with a paintbrush and palate above the earth, while the rest of us are stuck here on the ground for the time being, looking up at the clouds our mouths gaping stupidly. Running late for work we still find time to Google search for a nice Airbnb upstate that has a swimming hole and allows dogs, for a weekend getaway in the country.


I love my basketball

Black and white and orange, basketball guy sitting on the floor, legs bent he cradles his b-ball in only high socks, kneeling in attitude of prayer, proskynesis is the act of bowing down before a lord or ruler. He is paying respect, he is teary-eyed, it’s love and it’s romance.  Sport as contemporary religion in America.


Dead but still scared, Second Death

The cat reanimating the Golden Age still life, feline is female, fish is religion, eel mimetic phallus, eeek! This sea stuff piled and sliding across a tilted tabletop, it’s the horizon line. The scale has been tipped, it’s a banquet in hell, the fish is dead but still scared, their memorial painting has been disrupted, identity violently redefined as prey not dinner, intended honor caught in the claw, escargot all trying to escape this Second Death, purgatory, bad way to go, again.  



The Reckoning series

What agency do we have in our last moments, body and mind separated but not yet gone, for just one more instant, still acting as one. When you are told “it’s over”, can you shout back “not yet!” ?

How to make sense of mortality? It started working itself out like a joke. There are lots of chicken jokes. There’s a chicken and a man.  The man has a hat and an ax. What else does he have? A horse, a dog, an eagle, an apple tree, the land. It is all his; the identity of the man and his possessions are reliant on each other. This power dynamic is no struggle, he is in control. Can the relationship flip?

No it can’t, the man will slaughter the chicken.  The chicken, beheaded, runs in circles for the last time.  But wait.  With nothing left to lose the chicken ACTS, attempts to avenge its OWN death. Lunges back at the man, gives him the finger, grabs the ax from his hand, it’s body is over there and it’s head over here, flying in the air, he looks the man in the eye, as if to say “enough!” Is that the punch line?

The chicken, the cowboy, the dog, the horse, the eagle, the apple, the American landscape, all have a string of stories and meanings dangling for the taking and twisting, in literature, art history, film, pop culture, politics. But they are also real: they exist right now in the flesh and the dirt. It is nature dominated and controlled and dying, getting hotter every year right in front of us, the landscape is Americana, a cliché on HBO, and traditional European painterly gesture, looming over us at the Met, is still inscribed to describe the way the light hits the trees or reflects off the water.

The colonizer in this here town came as the explorer, the pioneer, turned into the cowboy, calm, cool and collected in his hat, scarf and ax, a consistent costume, like the Grim Reaper in hood and scythe.  Manifest destiny was theft and massacre, but what if one measly chicken, one of billions in an industrialized system, feeding the human need for a 6 pc. McNugget, a product of our greed and laziness, decapitated and running, can it look the cowboy in the eye, and say “Boo!”, scare him half to death with the recognition of himself and the repercussions of human actions, and for just one moment, give him pause.

There is a specific kind of regret triggered when one realizes there is absolutely no turning back, right after pushing that red button, then shouting out, “Wait!”  If this is it the downfall of humanity, it is happening sooner than I thought.

“I will take ‘Fire and Fury’ for $200 please, Alex.”  It’s Jeopardy. Slam that red button.

“What is Judgment Day?”


Quiet Fruit

What is left? Quiet fruit on a plate is all that’s left. They have rolled and settled in place. In the grass, the once trembling green has calmed but still moves with a whistle. The human hand that painted them, I mean plated them, is here, but will soon be far enough gone that the bugs will come. If you listen for a moment, the sounds they make are more peaceful than silence. Shhhhh. Something flutters and rustles, it’s soft.

If in another life
you came back as a ladybug
you would be small and discreet
and spend most of the day hiding,
clinging to the underside of a rose pedal,
drinking dew.
It would be a change of pace to get use to.
Then when you’d finally feel safe
to enter this disturbed space
with nothing human left at stake
you’d fly over to taste
the juice off the plate.

Lives and works in New York City

MFA Columbia University, 2018
BA Sarah Lawrence College, 2009

Selected Group Exhibitions
The Changes Wrought, American Medium, New York, NY (Forthcoming) Summer Show, curated by Sara O’Keeffe, Times Square Arts Space, New York NY (Forthcoming)
Herding Cats Again, Catbox Contemporary, New York, NY
Cliché, Almine Rech Gallery, New York, NY
THE SUN IS GONE BUT WE HAVE THE LIGHT, Unclebrother/ Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, Hancock, NY
Columbia University MFA Thesis Exhibition, Wallach Gallery, New York, NY Dallas Art Fair, Half Gallery Booth, Dallas, TX
NADA Miami, Half Gallery Booth, Miami, FL
Look Her Way, Thierry Goldberg Gallery, New York, NY
Summer Show, False Flag Gallery, Long Island City, NY
First Year MFA Exhibition, Wallach Gallery, New York, NY
NITE LITE, Re Re Projects Pfizer Building, Brooklyn, NY

Dong Kingman Fellowship Ellen Gelman Fellowship Edward Mazzella Scholarship

Heinrich, Will. “What to See in New York Art Galleries This Week.” The New York Times, July 6 2017. Print.
Artsy Editorial. “12 Artists in Summer Group Shows Who Deserve Solo Shows.” Artsy. August 2, 2017. Online.

Let’s Panic Magazine
Riot of Perfume Magazine
Zine Tornado NYABF, MoMA PS1