A move last year to Palm Springs, California, with its brilliant sunlight inspired Merrill to integrate aspects of Cubism into his latest work, particularly the use of form and bright color. Like Picasso and the passion of his mural, Guernica, Merrill is working with a profound sense of artistic purpose. He states, "The role of the artist is to fix unjust laws in the fabric of society that need to be fixed."
What has to be fixed, according to Merrill, is the repressiveness of an increasingly theocratic US Government toward same-sex couples and the denial of equal treatment to all citizens as guaranteed by the US Constitution. In 1996, for example, President Clinton signed "The Defense of Marriage Act," which disallowed same-sex couples the Federal tax benefits heterosexual couples receive. President Bush's efforts to amend the US Constitution against gay marriage provoked Merrill to stop paying his taxes in protest.
In addition to being a lifelong artist, Merrill published and edited Art In Ireland magazine in the 70s. During this time, he interviewed artist Joseph Beuys, who introduced Merrill to the concept of "Social Sculpture." Merrill explains, "Society as a whole is to be regarded as one great work of art to which each person can contribute creatively. Beuys said, 'Everyone is an artist.'" This expansive definition of art's role in the community gave Merrill a new perspective on creating art and inspired him to use it as a tool for transformation.
Influential artists throughout history who were homo- or pan-sexual have also galvanized Merrill into action, including da Vinci, Michelangelo, Paul Klee and Andrew Warhol. As the artist notes, "Many artists of the past were gay, some of the most gifted."
Merrill is also a performance artist who makes his attitudes toward Christianity uncompromisingly clear; he uses scissors and a black marker to edit Thomas Kinkade's Family Bible by cutting and striking out the hateful passages in the text.
Perhaps most importantly, Merrill is altruistic. The proceeds from the work sold at his show at New York City's Broadway Gallery benefit the William Institute UCLA Sexual Orientation Legal Think Tank. Ultimately, Merrill wants "to make social change, educate, to leave the world a better place for the next generation of oppressed people." This is an admirable goal by a progressive artist.
An exhibition is scheduled August 16 through August 31, 2007. Private reception, August 17th, 6pm-8pm, Broadway Gallery, 473 Broadway, 7th Floor, New York, NY 10013, (212) 274-8993.
Written by Milton Fletcher, writer for NY Arts magazine and director and curator of CyberGallery66.org.
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