Critics’ Picks

David Merritt, tonight (thesky), 2010, graphite and watercolor on paper, 19 1/2 x 19 1/4".

David Merritt, tonight (thesky), 2010, graphite and watercolor on paper, 19 1/2 x 19 1/4".


David Merritt

Jessica Bradley Art + Projects
1450 Dundas Street West
June 11–July 16, 2011

Since the mid-1990s, the meat of David Merritt’s drawings has been written words—the lyrics and titles of popular songs, to be exact—and in his latest exhibition this material generates themes of presentness and loss. From a distance, the collective presence of the works on view here seems to add up to not much more than a whisper, so to appreciate Merritt’s fine approach to the medium one must lean in closely.

Though the words serve as connective keys, the forms in the drawings are made intuitively, which lends a playful physicality to Merritt's standard schoolhouse cursive. For instance, in untitled (lonely) (all works 2011), words tethered around a swirling vortex also huddle in thematic clusters; in old, snippets of text accrue in a hirsute lump, seemingly teased out of their source like a long, loose thread. In other newer works, such as beauty (abc) and its close cousin love (abc), meandering words highlighted by soft strokes of watercolor swim within the frame or settle into sighing piles. Still elsewhere, Merritt spins words from lengths of sisal rope, which in their delicate placement allows these brief utterances to float off the wall. Culled from a vast archive of musical hits and misses, Merritt’s works highlight the comic redundancy of pop music’s emotive strains.

By the gallery’s entrance, tonight (lead), 2010, is a small wisp of a drawing scratched into a ragged square of Acousti-Lead—a building material, used to dampen sound bleed between rooms, that yields easily to a stylus and results in incised marks with a fuzzy, drypoint-like burr. It’s an apt material given Merritt’s sources, and a counterpoint to the airy drawings on the other walls. Enclosed in a small ovoid, the word tonight kindles a gentle urgency, and reveals that its visual weight is heavier than the sound.