In the past, Lara Merrett has worked on the more traditionally understood notion of a canvas. While she enjoys the process employed working in this way, pouring, pooling and evaporating paint on a crisp, primed white background, her recent drop sheet paintings have seen the artist allowing the work to be free from restraint and therefore more immediate. Long preferring to work on a large scale, the drop sheets have been a logical progression for Merrett, acting as ready-made supports that presented themselves organically through her studio practice, rather than having to be intentionally stretchered like the unanswered question of a blank canvas. The drop, sheets which started out on the periphery of Merrett’s practice, have now becoming the support material for this new body of work. ‘Once I noticed that they had a life of their own, I just gave them space to grow,’ Merrett says.
The exhibition is titled ‘Casus Fortuitus’, a Latin term used in the legal system to refer to an inevitable accident; Merrett deconstructs traditional approaches to painting which ensures that accidents will inevitably occur. Merrett has said that the drop sheets have in some ways ‘mapped’ her studio, and indeed their overlapping shapes and stains present a cartography of the studio via intentional and unintentional gestures. The colours are accidental in their beginnings as runoff, spill and leftovers, before the artist commences painting into them.
At SWAB art fair in Barcelona in 2015 Merrett freed herself from the problem of a defined canvas by creating an installation of pillowy drop sheets. Visitors were invited to wade through the mass of colour and cloth, along the way activating the performative aspect of the work. This interactive element takes hold again; this time the viewer is invited to re-calibrate the composition by pulling on the looped sheets, thus creating entirely new paintings. The works aren’t complete without the hand of the audience.
On a practical level the drop sheets the artist employs have presented their own sets of complications and advantages. The sheets have both a porous and a laminated side, enabling Merrett to paint from front to back and back to front. This allows her to further ‘unlearn’ or move away from the exacting colour library she has built up over years of mixing paint, hoping to discover a new shade lurking in the galaxies of pigment that bloom across the fabric. The sheets themselves are hardware store-bought and, unlike precisely stretched canvases, do not possess exacting dimensions. Matching pairs of canvases to be sewn together in loops come down to practicalities of size before complimentary aesthetics, adding to the ‘inevitable accidents’ inherent in this body of work. Additionally drop sheets, particularly their laminated sides, are intended to contain paint rather than display it, leading to further unpredictable behaviour of the paint on the surface of these supports.
Rather than seeking a resolution through her use of materials, Merrett uses the internal logic of the media at her disposal, allowing its inherent raw and imperfect characteristics to guide her – even the shapes on the canvas are formed by painting pots and pieces of wood lying about the studio. ‘I like work that is open to many possibilities, so when you’re looking at something you’re feeling the excitement of it,’ she says. In a world where nearly every aspect of life is subject to containment or measurement, Lara Merrett is seeking the inevitable accidents that come from pushing at boundaries, reworking and un-restraining them through the performative act of painting.
Essay by of Chloé Wolifson, Sydney 2016