Featured Artist Interview – Thérèsa Merchant

Artist Thérèsa MerchantThérèsa Merchant





Tell us about your artwork, medium, style, subject matter, etc.
I am fascinated by the universality of human emotions and subconscious urges across the infinitely varied collections of unique existences.  These distinctly human experiences are what make humankind a single entity, what gives us the ability to be a compassionate species, and frankly, gives me hope for human kind*.

I find the proof of this in art.  Art of all kinds: music, literature, dance, poetry, theater—has the ability to illicit common feelings, even across cultures.  I think about this as the Shakespeare Effect.  What is it about Shakespearean plays that is still accessible to such a wide audience 400 years after he died? (Incidentally, I did not round that number.  He died in 1616.  I looked it up.)  But then, really, Hamlet is just the angsty teenager we all were to some degree.  This isn’t a groundbreaking analysis, but it is definitely what I’m trying to describe.  And what I’m trying to achieve in my work.  I’m grasping at these commonalities that comprise our humanity, trying to depict them through carefully created, chosen, and placed images, objects, and texts.  Each combination represents a feeling, a story, an abstract idea.

Now, as to the actual work I make—it’s extremely mixed media. As I mentioned before I find that in the quest to portray the universalities of humanity, just about any media can do the trick, and I am only limited in doing so by my own technical abilities.  Very assemblage oriented, it often takes the form of a relief, or combined two and three-dimensional wall sculpture.  It also tends to have the “meta” qualities of being made out of smaller pieces I have made and previously shown. As do many artists, I dislike showing a piece to the same audience more than once, so if it doesn’t sell, it returns to the studio.  There, the works are disassembled and reused or the entire piece might become a small component of something much larger.  This process reflects something I am attempting to convey with my work: that bits of one narrative can play a part in another, and it’s history adds more to the other.  And that each little bit of a story is just part of a larger tale.

*Unless we destroy the Earth.  Ugh.

The Crimes-of-the-Doctor Artist Thérèsa Merchant

What are your biggest challenges in creating art?
The presentation. Getting the ideas in my head into a structurally sound, presentable form that can easily hang on a wall, that isn’t too heavy, etc.  I would love to be able to magically extract the images from my head into physical form, readily able to hang, easily transportable…   I excel at the creative aspects of art, and the engineering is often quite difficult for me.  Unfortunately the nature of much of my work—being sculptural and heavy, yet aesthetically suited to a wall—often requires feats of engineering and construction.  Fortunately, my partner Alex excels at these aspects and often lends a tremendous amount of help in the carpentry department.  It is quite a lucky complement of skills.

However, sometimes the question of presentation cannot be overcome.  There have been many incredible objects and paintings I have been extremely proud of for which I cannot devise a meaningful or feasible use.  I find I can do nothing with a piece I have these pieces, but to kiss then goodnight and stash them away.  Perhaps someday I will find use of these odd-fitting fragments.

Another great challenge for me is the archival aspect.  With decay and the effect of

Strange-and-Secret-Silver-People by Artist Thérèsa Merchant

What is a day of working like in your studio/creative space?  Do you have any rituals that help you get motivated or in “the zone”?
With the nature of the media I work in being so drastically “mixed”, the process is quite varied.  I am always on the hunt for inspiring objects and supports which complement and comprise the works.  I look for pieces that suggest their own history and allude to the stories and emotions of the individuals with whom they came into contact.  There’s always the element of serendipity as well—how these specific pieces came into my possession after having (seemingly) full inanimate lives.  Then there’s also the drawing, painting, and the parts of the work I create from scratch (often working on reused paper, wood, and canvas).  I have much more control over this and can use these parts to fill in the narrative, create ambiguous characters, and specify emotion.    The combination stage is definitely my favorite as well as being the most specific to my process.  I categorize the various components, based not on media but on aesthetic and theme.   Then it’s a matter of trying different amalgamations until the various elements merge into a coherent thought.  I like to imagine them as notes on a keyboard, discordant and unintelligible until the right combination strikes a cord, the melding ingredients culminating in a whole far more effective than the sum of it’s parts.

Sandbox-Empire by Artist Thérèsa Merchant

When you are in need of inspiration are there particular things you read, listen to, look at or do to help find that idea or fuel your work?
Oh yes.  I draw much of my inspiration from stories.   Almost any well-written story can fuel my examination of our shared experiences. Fictional stories often provide even more insight—in many ways the author is attempting to distill the same omnipresent emotions and evoke the same compassion.  But specifically, the timeless, mysterious aesthetic of J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world has irrevocably influenced my tastes.  And Erin Morgenstern’s Night Circus captures the essence beautiful, dark, twisted fantasy I picture my works speaking to.  And it is the most aesthetically pleasing book I have ever read.  I would HIGHLY recommend it

Lost-government-of-the-trees by Artist Thérèsa Merchant

What would people be surprised to learn about you?
That I sit under bridges and make travelers answer riddles in exchange for safe passage. But only during my off hours.

What advice would you give others just beginning their creative careers?
I mean, I definitely feel like I personally am at the beginning of my career, so take this “advice” with a grain of salt.
But it seems to me that we have to just do it. Just keep making art, just keep going to art shows, just keep meeting each other, just keep submitting our work.   And the work always has to come first, in more than one sense.  We have to make the work before we can be in shows—even if the work is different.  We can’t just assure the world that once the opportunities arise we will be there ready to grab them.  But the work also has to come first in the sense of priorities.  Most of us can’t afford to be full-time artists with no other sources of income at the beginning of our career.   But if we want to eventually be truly full-time artists, we need to act like it.   We need to put in that 40-hour workweek. Which, working around our other jobs, doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for much else.  And we have to be okay with that.  Actually, I think we have to WANT that, for our own sanity.  It can’t be work to go to our studios everyday, to get online and update those websites, apply for grants, receive rejection letters.  That’s our leisure time.  And we (have to) love it.

A-box-of-darkness by Artist Thérèsa Merchant

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