Merlin James – A View of the Clyde River at Glasgow, 2018

Paintings don’t show you what things look like, but something much more interesting: what it feels like to look at whatever it is that they show.
[David Fraser Jenkins, Slow Looking]

Merlin James
A View of the Clyde River at Glasgow, 2018
15 September – 17 November 2018

The first exhibition at A-M-G5 focused on a new painting by Merlin James titled ‘Dredge’. Within a fabricated faux-gilt picture frame, the painting depicts a view across the river Clyde from the house where James lives. It was new for James to depict a view familiar to him in quite this way. He tends more usually to make images that are analogues to, or at some remove from, his own experience. And even here the work is not made directly from observation, but in his (windowless) studio at the back of the house. James is painting his accumulated knowledge/memory of what is seen from the front window. He comments: “…as well as the distance or indirectness of connection between the image I make and the world I see, there is even more the distance or indirect connection to the significance of the scene, what it ‘means to me’ (or the viewer). Normally in my work the distance, the disconnect, is very important – the avoidance of the confessional or the ‘self expressive’ or the biographical. But maybe here there is something closer to a testimony.”

Two years after ‘Dredge’ was finished, Andrew Mummery asked James to reflect on the painting:

In terms of its size, the style in which it is painted, and the relationship of its subject matter to a particular rather than a generic place, ‘Dredge’ stands apart from the paintings that precede it within your practice. I think that it surprised you at the time that you made it. Looking back on it in the light of the paintings that you have made since, how do you see it now?

“The associations are very emotive and specific for me. The ‘location’ is the river Clyde, seen from the house here. It was painted in difficult circumstances. Yes, it surprised me, and I realised it was a one-off. There’s maybe one comparable painting from the same year, but I knew there wouldn’t be a series, or a whole new direction. Sometimes a work just dictates a mode, or a ‘manner’, and you have to let it be what it is, even if you don’t identify with it exactly. It relates to Utrillo or something. No-one really paints in that kind of language now. Actually, if I look back, I have had forays into this territory before – this kind of pseudo naturalism…”

‘Dredge’ is now the subject of a limited edition book published by A-M-G5 and including a poem specially commissioned from Harry Gilonis.


Dredge [2018] Mixed media. 120 x 215 cm.

Room 106 Oxford House, 71 Oxford Street, Glasgow G5 9EP