Richard Merkinís work conjures up scenes that evoke the raucous spirit of the 1920ís, 30ís and 40ís. In his witty, often eccentric illustrations, Merkin depicts movie stars, jazz musicians, sports heroes and literary impresarios co-mingling with more personal references. In his highly stylized approach to the figure, Merkin privileges color relationships, balance and juxtaposition over strictly literal descriptions of his subjects. And humor; thereís always humor.
Merging his role as flaneur (connoisseur of city life) with his role as painter and social historian, Merkin retrieves lost cultural artifacts-a Turkish cigarette, a gangster, a bowler and generally 'things most people don't know about'-and reconstitutes their Jazz Age virtues on canvas in cubist, comic-laced landscapes of tropical color.
Tom Wolfe, author of Bonfire of the Vanities, wrote, "The typical Merkin picture takes legendary American images-from baseball, the movies, fashion, Society, tabloid crime and scandal-and mixes them with his own autobiography, often with dream-style juxtapositions."
Merkin was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1938, and holds degrees from Syracuse University and the Rhode Island School of Design. In 1962-63 he received a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Fellowship in Painting and, in 1975, The Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Award from The National Institute of Arts and Letters.
Merkin began teaching at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in 1963 and remained there for nearly 40 years. During this time, he built his reputation in New York. He is represented in the permanent collections of The Museum of Modern Art, The Smithsonian Institution and the Whitney Museum as well as many others. . Mr. Merkin has been a Contributing Editor for Vanity Fair since 1986 and a regular contributor of illustrations to The New Yorker since 1988, as well as Harperís and The New York Timeís Sunday Magazine. From 1988-1991 he wrote a monthly style column for Gentlemenís Quarterly. In 1995, he illustrated the book, Leagues Apart: The Men and Times of the Negro Baseball Leagues, (by Larry Ritter). He wrote the text and captions for The Tijuana Bibles, (Simon & Schuster, 1997
He also has the dubious distinction of appearing on the cover of the Beatlesí Sgt. Pepperís Lonely Hearts Club Band album, (back row, right of center).
Exhibitions include: One man show at Obelisk Gallery Boston, 1965; group shows at DeCordova Museum, Lincoln Mass. 1963, 1964, 1965; Boston Arts Festival, 1962; Rhode Island Arts Festival, 1964.
Awards: Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Fellowship in Painting, 1963; First Prize, Providence Art Club Painting Annual, 1965; First Prize, Silvermine Guild, 1963.
Van Lingle Mungo
48" x 74"