New York

Merlin James

Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

It has often been observed that Merlin James’s solo shows look like group shows, and this twenty-year survey proved the point, with a full range of painterly genres—seascape, landscape, portrait, erotic, interior, still life—on display, as well as variations in style ranging from dark impasto on misshapen, detritus-strewn canvases to smoother, Fauvish studies. James’s imagery is so calculatedly disparate as to deny not only the coherence lent by shared authorship but the very possibility of narrative. Indeed, his work, perhaps inadvertently, conveys more than a hint of the problematics of meaning in contemporary painting: As much as he strives to articulate his place in a figurative tradition that stretches from John Constable to Walter Sickert and Giorgio Morandi, his quasi homage strenuously resists its own time.

While James’s rendering is self-consciously unvirtuosic and the acrylic he

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