“As if I were leaving this life and had to take with me only a very few concrete images: this is what it was, not good, not bad, just what stood out. Not ephemeral, not photo or film-like, but memory turned into object, monumentalized.” — Mernet Larsen
Various Small Fires (VSF) is pleased to present Chainsawer, Bicyclist and Reading in Bed, the west coast solo debut of painter Mernet Larsen (b. 1940).
For decades, Larsen exhibited almost exclusively in her home state of Florida. It is only in the past several years that critics, curators, and artists outside of the Southeast have discovered the significance of her distinctive oeuvre. As if extruding cubism through a 21st Century prism, Larsen’s extreme yet rigorous geometric and perspectival distortions complicate the discourse of representational painting and provide context for a younger generation of painters such as Dana Schutz and Avery Singer.
With a combination of impossible perspectives, angular abstraction, and improvisational textures, Larsen’s paintings echo those of Constructivist masters Malevich and El Lissitzky, but have also been related to emaki (Japanese scroll painting), early Sienese perspectival painting, and the proto-Surrealist paintings of Giorgio de Chirico.
In Chainsawer, Bicyclist, and Reading in Bed, Larsen captures encounters among seemingly alienated individuals, ranging from mundane to portentous, each composed as a wry paradox of distress and detachment. In “Explanation”, meeting participants seated around a conference table distractedly listen to a gesticulating speaker as they are enveloped by the room’s green linoleum floor; in “Sit-ups Leg-lifts”, two spandex-clad women on mats are elongated as if by their exertions into rigid planks of curiously kinetic stasis; and in “Chainsawer and Bicyclist”, a suburban afternoon is fraught with danger as an impassive bicyclist careens down his incongruous perspectival plane into a chainsaw passively held by an off-balance yet oblivious woman.
Larsen refers to her paintings as “analogs” rather than “representations” because they distill each scenario into a radical socio-spatial analog, not as recorded by observation but as mentally constructed. Larsen’s paintings poignantly ask: what does it mean to exist in time?
Mernet Larsen (b. 1940 in Houghton, Michigan) lives and works between Tampa, Florida and Jackson Heights, New York with her husband, artist Roger Clay Palmer. She received a BFA from the University of Florida and her MFA from Indiana University. Larsen has held over 30 solo exhibitions including a three decade retrospective at Deland Museum of Art, Deland, FL; and at institutions and galleries including Johannes Vogt Gallery, NY; New York Studio School Gallery, NY; Regina Rex, Brooklyn, NY; Marcia Wood Gallery, Atlanta, GA. Her work is in numerous public and private collections such as The St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, FL; Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, FL; Grinnell College, Grinnell, IA; Tampa Museum of Art, Tampa FL; the University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum, Tampa, FL and Neiman Marcus. This is her first solo exhibition at Various Small Fires.