Merlin James

Merlin James, Night, 2020, ashes on cotton duck, 66 x 115 cm / 26 x 45.3 in

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Merlin James, Untitled, 2020, ashes on scrim, 66 x 93.5 cm / 26 x 36.8 in   
Merlin James, Bridge, 2020, mixed materials, 117 x 97 cm / 46.1 x 38.2 in      

Merlin James, Frame and Building Painting, 2019 - 2020, mixed materials, 75.5 x 84 cm / 29.7 x 33.1 in 

Merlin James, Houses,Trees, 2020, mixed materials, 97 x 147 cm / 38.2 x 57.9 in   

Merlin James, Observe, 2020, mixed materials, 98 x 149 cm / 38.6 x 58.7 in 

Merlin James, By Water, 2008, acrylic and mixed media, 55 x 96 cm / 21.7 x 37.8 in

Merlin James, Moon, 2000–2015, acrylic and mixed media, 112 x 60 cm / 44.1 x 23.6 in   

Merlin James, Bridge, 1998, acrylic and mixed media, 45 x 64 cm / 17.7 x 25.2 in   

Merlin James, The Vale, 2017, acrylic, canvas, polycarbonate, wood, hair and mixed materials, 103 x 177 cm / 40.6 x 69.7 in   

Merlin James, House on a Hill, 2010, wood, plastic, acrylic, 58 x 42 cm / 22.8 x 16.5 in   

Merlin James, CN 2008, acrylic on canvas, 55 x 83 cm / 21.7 x 32.7 in 

Merlin James 
Green Bird 2008
acrylic and mixed media on canvas 
68.6 x 51.4 cm / 27 x 20.2 in  

Merlin James, Shop front, 1991, acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 25 x 30.5 cm / 9.8 x 12 in  

Merlin James, Untitled, 2000, charcoal on paper, 45.5 x 30.5 cm / 17.9 x 12 in   

Merlin James, Untitled, 2008, charcoal on paper, 30.5 x 45 cm / 12 x 17.7 in, 40 x 55 cm framed / 15.7 x 21.7 in framed  

Merlin James, Estuary, 2014, acrylic, wood and mixed media, 100 x 186 cm / 39.4 x 73.2 in, Collection Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris
Merlin James 
Grain 2016
acrylic and mixed media
96 x 136 cm / 37.8 x 53.5 in  
Merlin James
Untitled 2012
acrylic and mixed media on canvas
49.5 x 80.5 cm / 19.5 x 31.7 in   
Merlin James
Sans undated
acrylic and mixed media on canvas
66 x 56 cm / 26 x 22 in

Merlin James, Railway Houses,  2016, acrylic and mixed media, 66 x 110 cm / 26 x 43.3 in  

Merlin James, Crossed, 2011, wood, polyester, acrylic, metal, 101 x 66 cm / 39.8 x 26 in

Merlin James,
Untitled (still),
acrylic and mixed materials,
53 x 94 cm / 20.9 x 37 in
Merlin James,
acrylic on canvas,
112 x 200 cm / 44.1 x 78.7 in
Merlin James,
acrylic on canvas with mixed materials,
30 x 45 cm / 11.8 x 17.7 in
Merlin James,
mixed materials,
70 x 113 cm / 27.6 x 44.5 in
Merlin James,
House and Cloud,
acrylic, wood and mixed media,
72 x 56 cm / 28.3 x 22 in

Merlin James, Big Landscape Painting, 2011, acrylic on polyester, 103.5 x 145.4 cm / 40.7 x 57.2 in, Collection Dallas Museum of Art, USA


Merlin James
acrylic on canvas
46 x 35 cm / 18.1 x 13.8 in  

Merlin James
Long Game
CCA Glasgow
22 January – 13 March 2016
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Merlin James
Meeting at the Building
Douglas Hyde Gallery, Gallery 2
11 December 2015 - 24 February 2016
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Merlin James
KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin
18 SEP - 10 NOV 2013

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Merlin James
Kunstverein Freiburg
January 17th – March 3rd, 2014

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Merlin James
Parasol unit, London
6 June - 10 August 2013
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Merlin James
In the Gallery
Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin
03 February - 28 March 2012

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Merlin James
New Paintings
Kerlin Gallery, Dublin
19 October – 24 November 2012
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b.1960, Cardiff.
Merlin James’ intensively worked and generally small-scale canvases encompass a wide variety of subject matter including empty interiors, rural landscapes, architecture and, more recently, scenes of sexual intimacy. Often distressed, pierced, cropped or heavily overpainted, these works refine and renew many of painting's most time- honoured concerns - genre and narrative, pictorial space and expressive gesture, the emotive resonance of colour and texture. His apt description of the painterly project of an admired forebear, Alex Katz (James is also an accomplished and widely published critic), is equally applicable to his own practice, i.e. he continues to play the grand, complex game of Western painting while reflecting a fully contemporary consciousness of the modern and postmodern disjunctures of history and culture. James lives and works in Glasgow.
Recent exhibitions include: Slow Painting, Leeds Art Gallery, UK (group, 2019) travelling to The Levinsky Gallery, University of Plymouth, UK (group, 2020); A View of the Clyde River at Glasgow, A-M-G5, Glasgow, UK (solo, 2018); Long Game, OCT Boxes Museum, Shunde & OCT Art and Design Gallery, Shenzhen (both solo, China, 2018); Painting Amongst Other Things, Drill Hall Gallery, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia (group, 2018); Long Game, CCA Glasgow (solo, 2016); Freestyle, Kunstverein Freiburg, Germany (solo, 2014); Merlin James, Parasol Unit, London; Signal Box, KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin (both solo, 2013); and Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin (both solo; 2012, 2015). In 2007, James represented Wales at the 52nd Venice Biennale. 
James is represented in the following public collections; TATE, London; Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas; Sifang Art Museum, Nanjing, China; National Museum of Wales, Cardiff and OCT Boxes Art Museum, Shunde, China.


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Merlin James, Art Basel 'OVR:2020'

23 September - 26 September 2020

Art Basel 2020

Kerlin Gallery is pleased to announce a solo presentation by Merlin James for Art Basel's upcoming 'OVR:2020'.

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Merlin James, FIELDWORK

42 Carlton Place, Glasgow

23 April - 28 June 2020

Originally planned to coincide with Glasgow International 2020, this exhibition comprises works by a range of painters, across generations.

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Merlin James, Art In conversation, The Brooklyn Rail

Louis Block, April 2020

Merlin James, Art In Conversation with Louis Block.

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Merlin James, Slow Painting

Leeds Art Gallery

25 October 2019 - 12 January 2020

Slow Painting is a Hayward Gallery Touring exhibition curated by Martin Herbert, the exhibition features 19 artists, whose work spans a myriad of styles and applications.

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Merlin James in ‘Painting Amongst Other Things’

Drill Hall Gallery, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

10 August – 7 October 2018

A multi-venue exhibition expanding the common definition of painting.

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Merlin James, Long Game

OCT Art and Design Gallery, Shenzhen, China

29 May – 20 June 2018

Merlin James solo exhibition, featuring over 70 paintings and drawings that span over 30 years of the artist's work and present a diverse selection of genres, styles and subjects.

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Merlin James, Long Game

OCT Boxes Art Museum, Shunde, China

23 March – 20 May 2018

Merlin James solo exhibition, featuring over 70 paintings and drawings that span over 30 years of the artist's work and present a diverse selection of genres, styles and subjects. 

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Park, Guangzhou & Hong Kong

Co-organised with Holly's Gallery

Park is an exhibition across two venues in Guangzhou and Hong Kong.

Artists: Liam Gillick, Callum Innes, Merlin James, Liu Ke, Isabel Nolan, Sean Scully, Liliane Tomasko, Zhou Li

Merlin James, Long Game

CCA Glasgow, UK

22 January – 13 March 2016

Solo exhibition

This exhibition presents new works from the painter Merlin James, with others from across his career. 

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Merlin James, Meeting at the Building

Gallery 2, Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin, Ireland

11 December 2015 – 24 February 2015

Solo exhibition

Merlin James has a new solo exhibition in the Douglas Hyde Gallery's Gallery 2 space. In addition, James will give a lecture on the work of Serge Charchoune – currently showing in Gallery 1 – at 5pm on Thursday 10th December.

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TWO x TWO 2015

TWO x TWO for AIDs and Art, Rachofsky House, Dallas, TX, USA

24 October 2015

Charity Auction

Works by Merlin James and Sean Scully will be included in the TWO x TWO for AIDs and Art auction in Dallas.

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Out There, Thataway

CCA Derry~Londonderry, Northern Ireland

8 August – 29 September 2015

Group exhibition

Aleana Egan and Merlin James will both participate in Out There, Thataway at CCA Derry, alongside Stephen Brandes, Kevin Gaffney, Rana Hamadeh, Fergus Feehily and Nathan Coley.

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Merlin James, Freestyle

Kunstverein Freiberg

17 January – 09 March 2014

Kunstverein Freiburg presents a solo exhibition by Merlin James. Freestyle presents landscapes, figurative and abstract paintings from James' entire career that reveals a complex picturesque language.

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Merlin James, Signal Box

KW Berlin

18 September - 10 November 2013

Merlin James' solo show Signal Box opens 18 September at Kunst Werke Berlin and is Merlin's first institutional show in Germany. It spans three decades of his work, representing his range of imagery, genre, technical and stylistic approaches.

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Merlin James

Parasol unit foundation for contemporary art

6 June - 10 August 2013

Parasol unit foundation for contemporary art presents the work of Welsh painter Merlin James, focusing on a selection of works from his early career in the 1980s to the present. This will be the artist’s first major solo exhibition in a London institution.

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Merlin James, Panel Discussion: Towards Meaning in a Plural Painting World

Hunter MFA Building, Hunter College, New York

Friday, January 11, 2013, 7.30pm

Merlin James will be one of the panelists in a discussion about the condition of painting in its contemporary context and whether the current plurality in painting dilutes meaning, or if it is just a case of many people doing many interesting things.

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Paintings We Need

6 November 2016

In an era that celebrates celebrity, vulgar loudmouths, puerile provocateurs, selfie-addicts, and excessive materialists, Merlin James prefers subtlety over din, less rather than more.

The paintings have not gotten bigger. The artist continues to paint landscapes, interiors, and other genre scenes. Some of the paintings have a hole (or what the artist calls a “negative collage”) in them. There are paintings done on damaged-looking nylon fabric, which reminds me of a used dishcloth or package wrapping. There are also a number of “frame paintings,” in which the artist has used a found frame to make a shallow box exposing the work’s stretcher bars. A transparent sheet of silk or nylon has been stretched over the bars to create a scrim on which a few daubs of paint might be added. Those daubs can become a house, or a tree, or a row of factory buildings.


- John Yau

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Artforum Critics' Picks

Merlin James, Centre for Contemporary Art, Glasgow

February 2016

Merlin James sometimes refers to his activity as “easel painting,” and it makes sense, considering the intimate scale and historic subject matter he usually works with. This survey, which covers over three decades of production and contains thirty-one paintings, twenty-one drawings, and fifty-four sculptures, mostly of model buildings displayed in vitrines, offers a succinct view of the Welshman’s projects. It is rare that these tiny sculptures, normally found within his paintings and constructed from leftover wood fragments, get exhibited.

James’s paintings are predominately landscapes in format and evocation. They depict a wide range of things: buildings, birds, artists, sex, the past, and even a luggage carousel. He references Poussin, Courbet, and, most obviously, Auguste Herbin, in a work titled Herbin (left panel), 1998–2008. Its geometric composition is signed with the French painter’s name instead of James’s, though interestingly, in James’s cursive hand, “Herbin” looks a lot like “Merlin.”

The corpus on view is ill at ease and hardly easy. James’s work has sought to rigorously problematize the experience of painting while simultaneously deepening its formal language. In the elegant Hanger, 2016, the object’s darkly lacquered stretcher bars can be seen through its mesh surface. They suggest a tree, while a long cross bar indicates a horizon line. James’s antagonistic use of holes, sticks, hair, fabric, and thick swatches of paint seem to make what he does, more than anything else, deeply poetic.

- Sherman Sam

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Frieze Critic's Guide

Serge Charchoune / Merlin James, Douglas Hyde Gallery

14 February 2016

In Gallery 2 at Douglas Hyde, Merlin James’s deft suggestions in paint and wood are the artist’s accompaniment to the exhibition of neglected Franco Russian artist Serge Charchoune (1888–1975), whom he also curated in the main space. Charchoune’s work is interesting, but it is James’ three barely-there paintings (all 2015) that hold the mind. Gestures in paint, on fabric that reveals the supporting structures of the picture frame, conjure up buildings, clouds, trees. The artist’s genius way with shadows add a three-dimensionality alongside an unstable, fairytale-feel. Below two of these are long low vitrines, in which James has created whole villages of buildings from studio debris: off-cuts of stretcher bar and frame moulding. The little installation is a gem of a piece, the essence of art’s ability to create whole worlds from just a small set of gestures.

- Gemma Tipton

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The New York Times

Merlin James, Genre Paintings, Sikkema Jenkins & Co

26 February 2015

"One of the quietly great painters of our moment, Merlin James works in ways both predictable and surprising. He has established his own lexicon of terms, which includes modestly sized canvases, atmospheric landscapes populated with partial figures and coy maneuvers into the picture’s shape and surface … "

- Martha Schwendener

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artnet news: Top 10 New York Gallery Shows

Merlin James, Genre Paintings, Sikkema Jenkins & Co

25 February 2015

No two paintings by Merlin James look alike, and that is a large part of their strength and appeal. In this densely packed show, “Genre Paintings," the Welsh-born artist cavalierly explores a wide range of abstract and figurative motifs, seemingly unconcerned with establishing any sort of formulaic continuity. His only concession to a format seems to be in terms of scale, which remains relatively modest, as his works never extend over a couple of feet in either dimension.

Bridge (2014), is a relatively detailed painting of a suspension bridge seen from a treeless hillside above the muddy river bank. The work's richly textured surface conveys a palpable sense of the materials—earth and metal—highlighted in the image. In a number of works James uses a surface with concave sides, suggesting a topological twist on painting's conventional rectangular format. Outstanding among these is an untitled work (2010–2015) that shows the backs of three human heads facing an infinite sky painted a delicate shade of pale mauve. Bands of yellow and ochre secure the right and left sides of the composition. This work and numerous others in the show demonstrate James's technical prowess—the consummate brushwork and extraordinary color sense—not to mention the seemingly inexhaustible range of imagery, that makes his work unique.

- David Ebony

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What does it mean to be a grown-up painter?

22 February 2015

"… James doesn’t fall into the familiar art market camps being heavily promoted by curators and critics alike these days. He isn’t into copying, pastiche, faux improvisation, contempt, kitsch, irony, abstract lyricism, didacticism or literalism. There are no allusions to Abstract Expressionism in his work, no parodies of the gestural. He doesn’t pull back the canvas to simply show you that there is a stretcher behind it, which is to say he doesn’t come across as a teacher who underestimates the intelligence of his audience. James’ paintings are not platforms where gestures of contempt are deposited as some kind of meaningful residue. Such familiar negations strike me as proverbial outbursts of testosterone-fueled male adolescence. To his credit, James doesn’t want to be the latest manifestation of a male adolescent painter, a clichéd archetype that gained traction in the Neo-Expressionist ‘80s, with the rise of Julian Schnabel, and has not been thrown over because lots of people still find this sort of chest thumping entertaining. He is the only artist that can introduce whimsy into a work without devolving into the whimsical …"

- John Yau

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Time Out New York

Merlin James, Genre Paintings, Sikkema Jenkins & Co

12 February 2015

Despite the obituaries written for the medium since the 19th century, people like paintings, and painters like to make them. Which might explain the recent countervailing argument, which stipulates that contemporary artists must somehow allow that painting used to be dead, even if it never really was. This sort of nonsense informs shows like MoMA’s contemporary painting survey, “The Forever Now.”

Nevertheless, Welsh painter Merlin James would have been my pick for that show, though, admittedly, there’s a lot of art-world aficionados with left-out artist lists of their own. His latest show fields modestly scaled compositions packing the punch of grand ambitions. Each is a cocktail of figure, landscape, still life and abstraction, spiked with a measure of melancholy or wistful remembrance. James also takes a reflexive look at the glass: Some of the canvases are shaped, and some are made of stretched transparent mesh, revealing occasionally painted wooden supports. Other works edge their subjects with bands of color or sport tiny architectural models.

James explores painting’s plasticity not only as smeared pigment but also as an art-historical tradition that’s kneaded, pulled apart and mushed back into formats familiar and not. He makes this point almost literally with a number of works whose sides are bowed as if they’d been squeezed by a giant hand.

The brushwork varies from thick (the faint cerulean background behind the titular Single Flower) to soaked in (the foregrounded landscape in Bridge) to dragged or dappled. The palette can be muted or break out into bright tones (like the sylvan view in Silver Birch). Echoes of Turner, Bacon and Albert Pinkham Ryder abound.

Pure abstractions are included here, but mostly James is an imagist wandering the terrain of memory. At issue, however, is not just the individual’s anamnesis, but painting’s itself—a discipline that’s always looked backward to move ahead.

- Howard Halle

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Merlin James, Freestyle, Kunstverein Freiburg

April 2014

"Merlin James's motifs emerge as though unbidden out of a painterly process too shy or too proud to elicit them. Content is not a glimpse, as in de Kooning's famous phrase, it is a clear-cut image, but one that the painter registers as though by default, with his eye on other things: on painting as material accretion (as distinct from the temporal singularity of the still image); as an open-ended process, not intent on closure. These motifs have the explicitness of signs for content – the three dimensions of a house, the stacked landscape zones of field/treeline/sky – as though the Welsh painter were demonstrating how susceptible we are to illusionism. But irony is counterbalanced by sentiment, or apparently so, as yearning often proves to be a received image of itself; received, that is, from the reservoir of art-historical precedent that James taps into …"

- Mark Prince

Abstract Critical

Merlin James, Parasol Unit

26 June 2013

"In a world of spectacular logic there’s something refreshing about a painter who refuses to pin down his subjects. Letting the motifs of his work emerge, as if by magic, from the formal matrix of his paintings, Merlin James risks whimsicality but instead finds something new in the easily forgotten. Like a burnished coin found in the crevice of a pocket James’s paintings have an almost uncanny familiarity, as though we are rediscovering something previously kept hidden. His boats, his trees, his chugging trains and lolling bridges are fleetingly familiar, like memories, landmarks on a journey through an intricate mental landscape …"

- Dan Coombs

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Merlin James, Galerie les Filles du Calvaire

April 2013

"Spanning more than fifteen years, the twenty-one works collected in Merlin James's exhibition "Painting" epitomize his signature blend of dizzingly diverse subjects, styles, and techniques. From a faux-naive still life with bird rendereed in thick eath tones, Male Bird (Pecking), 2008–11, to a minimalist study in turquoise just barely suggesting architecture (Building, 2008); from Untitled, 2009, a gritty close-up of a sex act, to Burn and Grotto, ca. 2000–2009, an abstract diptych that has been burned, punctured, and collaged, James – an art critic as well as a painter – is consistent only in his determination to eschew genre, comparison and easy description …"

- Mara Hoberman

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Art in America

Museums in Flux

05 February 2013

MUSEUMS IN GLASGOW, as in other cities, are often battlegrounds for ideological conflict, as well as barometers of economic and political pressure. When I first visited here some 15 years ago, maverick museum director Julian Spald- ing was causing a furor with his recently founded Gallery of Modern Art, where he tried to counter prevalent insti- tutionalized avant-gardism with what many found a clunky populism. He left in 1999, but since then controversies around Glasgow museums have continued.

- Merlin James

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Artforum, Best of 2011

Merlin James, Sikkema Jenkins & Co

December 2011

Like his near contemporaries Peter Diog and Luc Tuymans, James takes painting's multiple and overlapping histories partly as his subject matter and partly as a point of departure. The paintings are stylistically promiscuous – it is hard to describe or even imagine a "typical James." Yet seen together they not only make perfect sense but alos articulate something of the infinite freedom and the stubborn vitality of the medium.

- Matthew Higgs

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Merlin James, Sikkema Jenkins & Co

1 November 2011

Evening SunNightBig Landscape Painting; Windmill (Blue Sails) (all  2010–11). As their titles make plain, Merlin James’s recent works were fashioned with landscape in mind. Their topography is filtered, however, through a baffle of layers, both material and metaphysical. Each of these relatively small works is stubbornly, mischievouslu paradoxical in its encasement. A fram presents its contents frontally. Yet they form, in fact, the back of anorher undressed canvas. Stretched over this exposed support, in turn, is a transparent scrim, which occasionally opens onto miniature wooden houses perched on a transverse slat; or a beaded necklace strung behing (in front of) the flimsy, see-through pane. In nearly every instance, paint appears smeared over the gossamer surface, only occasionally congealing into a house or a tree …" 

- Ara H. Merjian

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Merlin James, Sikkema Jenkins & Co

November 2011

"… James's most recent show at Sikkema Jenkins & Co. – a presentation of more than twenty paintings made between 1989 and 2011 – argued forcefully that experimentation has consistently rested at the heart of his project. Arranged in no particular order, the works trace his involvement with a wide range of historical flotsam – from seascapes to abstractions – and pictorial effects: Surfaces are painted thick or thin, abraded, festooned with sawdust or matted hair, and sometimes cut to achieve "negative collage" (holes in the canvas that expose the walls behind them) …"

- Suzanne Hudson

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