303 Gallery is proud to announce our first solo exhibition by Tanya Merrill. With this new body of paintings, Merrill creates a mythological chronology of the natural world, spanning the origins of creation, the development of science, agriculture, art and industry, and the earth’s subsequent destruction.
Using symbolism from centuries of pop culture- including references to Dolly (the first genetically engineered sheep), the Virgin Mother, Galileo’s moon-mapping, and hobbyist beekeeping- Merrill incorporates a shared history into her riveting and intimate imagination of ecological demise. The artist utilizes art historical reference in aid of her premonition, reflecting on the evidence of human intervention in the record of painting through nods to Balthus, van Dyck, Constable and others.
The exhibition’s conceptual timeline begins with creation, both our world’s confounding beginning and the reverence of human creation that is motherhood and birth. In the first painting (pictured), a crow flies over rural farmland, an imagined origin story of how the world came to be. The crow, an invented subject within Merrill’s folklore, appears as the all-knowing observer – an enduring witness to society’s manipulation of the land. The verdant countryside is based on the Balthus painting Italian Landscape, now obscured by the artist’s addition of the wise, ushering crow.
Merrill’s tale continues with a focus on the looming loss of ecological diversity and species decline. Highlights include the painting Ash tree before it faced extinction, which comments on the fated history of the ash tree in North America, currently in rapid decline. Merrill references John Constable’s paintings of the Ash tree from the 1800s, and contemplates how in the coming years, his work could document an extinct fauna.
The exhibition delves further into a conceptualized, and disturbing, end of times – the product of societal ravage and earth’s biological disruption. Merrill’s timeline concludes with the painting The last fish on earth. Harkening Jan van Kessel the Elder’s Still life with fish in the harbor and the history of maritime art, Merrill’s memento mori reflects on the ocean crisis. Vesuvius, contrastingly, depicts the erupting volcano, mid-roar. The artist notes that while humans cannot rise from volcanic ash, ferns and algae do eventually emerge from the veil of soot left behind.
About the Artist
Tanya Merrill’s work invents narratives to examine humanity’s fraught relationship to nature and cultural portrayals of gender and sexuality through her own contemporary lens. Fantastic, consequential, and at times humorous scenes are populated by animals and characters caught amidst moments of introspection, fervor, or mischief. Gesture and movement are punctuated by sketched lines, lending her canvases a sense of effervescence and immediacy. Reinterpreting motifs drawn from throughout art history, Merrill imbues a sense of familiarity to her storytelling to decode 21st century concerns. Symbols and imagery make repeat appearances from one work to the next, building a mythology of personas and environments.
Tanya Merrill was born in New York City in 1987. She received her BA from Sarah Lawrence College and her MFA from Columbia University. Merrill presented a solo exhibition at Half Gallery, New York in 2020, and a solo exhibition at The Pond Society Shanghai in Summer 2021. Recent group exhibitions include Blum and Poe, Los Angeles; Gagosian Gallery, New York; and Clearing, New York. Merrill lives and works in New York City.