Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Julian Merrow-Smith


Julian Merrow-Smith, artist. Taken March 18, 2013.


On February 16, 2005, Julian Merrow-Smith painted an oyster. It was 12 x 14 centimetres, about the size of a postcard. A year and 362 small paintings later, an article about the painter and his project appeared in the New York Times. Six months after that Julian’s mailing list had grown from three to three thousand and each painting was selling even before it was dry.

Ruth Phillips Cherries from Cheveux's Orchard
Outside the red cottage where I live in Roberts Creek is an ageing fig tree. It is planted too close to the house. It is, in fact, planted directly under the power lines making constant pruning both necessary and dangerous, but is gives abundant and beautiful fruit. Each September if I can collect the figs before the birds and wasps get them I stew them into a ruby jam and deliver a jar to friends at Christmas.
In the spring of 2009 I began following Postcard from Provence and in the summer I bid on the painting of three figs. Each year my figs come and go but these three have remained true.



I wanted to meet Julian Merrow-Smith and his wife Ruth Phillips not just because he is a brilliant painter and she a professional cellist and skilled author. Although that would have been enough. I wanted to meet them because they seemed to have solved one of the great questions of our time: how to make a living through art while at the same time retainingo a measure of independence to live where and how you choose. When I first encountered Postcard from Provence. I thought it was the most clever idea I had seen in a long time. It seemed a stroke of genius. Take advantage of the internet as a visual medium that can easily be tied to online auctions. Make the paintings small enough to go easily through the post, add one very talented painter some hard work and some luck and “voila!” you had a mechanism by which you could live almost anywhere and make your living through your art.  

The Watercolour was small, warm, very much alive; mp tom the sense that the oranges looked like oranges; although they did. It was more that the pleasure Julian took in the paint and the oranges was somehow alive in the painting. There was a strong sense of analysis but also of revealing—in the subject and in the medium—that made it so different to anything I was doing then or have ever managed to do since. I think that this is something that defines the best of his work: an intellectual coolness and sensual warmth that is emulsified somehow in paintings which, and I don’t think this is a coincidence, are more often than not inspired by the pantry.

Introduction to the book Postcard from Provence by GJH
I set up my portable studio in their living room. Julian, I photographed before lunch, Ruth, after lunch. For my assistant I took my seventeen year old daughter Esmé. Julian remarked how different it was to be on the other side of the portrait process. Ruth played her cello. Even warming up it was magnificent.  As I worked on Ruth's portrait Julian left to begin his afternoon's painting. I felt very privileged to be invited into their world and tried hard not to make too big of a dent in their day.