jimmy merris says forget the art, the world is in trouble
After a short stint in Snowdonia, Jimmy is back in south London — working out of a funeral parlor and creating uniquely sinister yet humorous work.
A shortened version of this article originally appeared in The Radical Issue, no. 350, Spring 2018.
Jimmy Merris currently works from an old funeral parlor in West Norwood. If you know his work, you’ll understand why this makes a fitting studio. Absurd and macabre — Jimmy works across video, painting and animatronic sculpture — with each piece more sinister, yet humorous, than the last. “My first show was called Finding Your Feet in the Times of the Worried Man, and I haven’t really moved on from that. I don’t want to find my feet anyway! Imagine I found them. I’d probably be really bored and really safe.”
The 34-year-old artist has lived in south London for all his life, save for recent stint in Nant Gwynant, Snowdonia. “My dad is from North Wales and I know the area well. I went with my friend Dan Szor who was teaching part time in Manchester. I just wanted a bit of space, and it was cheap. I’ve always liked the mountains. I turned one of the rooms into my studio. We got our eggs delivered.” He spent most of his time painting and driving around, and the change in scene was good for his health. “I ended up buying a Thermos Flask and an OS map and walking up mountains talking to goats. I don’t feel like I’m in a rush anymore. I don’t really want to be part of any scene.”
As part of our portfolio of artists showing at London Frieze for The Radical Issue, we caught up with Jimmy.
You moved to a secluded cottage to Wales for a while. Why, and what brought you back to London?
I just wanted a bit of space, and it was cheap. I grew up in London and had never left. I’ve always liked the mountains. I turned one of the rooms into my studio. We got our eggs delivered. I came back because I fell in love.
What effect did this have upon your art? Did the change in physical environment effect way you perceived the objects you worked with and the final creation?
Pretty much all I did in Wales was paint and walk and drive around a lot. It was interesting talking to the people I met in Wales about my work. I showed a few people too, they thought I was a bit odd — and then we talked about other things. I did make a landscape video called Pressing on. I had to respond to my surroundings in some way, in video form. I could walk for hours and not see a single person. It was very peaceful, a very spiritual place. If anything, I just learned not to worry, or how to control the worry. I’m worrying again now I’m back in London. But that’s healthy I suppose. I’ll probably go back one day.
untitled animatronic (nant gwynant) seems to bring a lot of your paintings to life, and the effect is quite sinister. What drew you to this medium and what can you say via animatronics which you couldn't through painting or performance?
I was thinking a lot about moving images, and I was also thinking about making a sculpture. Then I saw an animated crawling zombie in a B&Ms [a value home store] in Ruthin when I was visiting my dad. You had to press a button to activate it. It was in a sort of sad little Halloween grotto they built with nobody in there. I bought about five in B&M then another 15 or so on Ebay, and then just sat there looking at them for about a month. Eventually I figured out how to wire them to a caravan battery. The animatronic I showed at Frieze [Nant Gwynant] is basically two animatronics wired together, and a burglar alarm sensor that sets it off. These are pretty much the only sculptures I have made and I am quite happy with them. I suppose it’s just a different way of working; I don’t like to just make the same work all the time. That’s not interesting to me.
Broadly, what kind of message do you intend to leave people with who have experienced your art?
What ideas tie your work together across different disciplines?
Some uncertainty. Some hope. My first show was called Finding Your Feet in the Times of the Worried Man, and I haven’t really moved on from that. I don’t want to find my feet anyway! Imagine I found them. I’d probably be really bored and really safe. I use an out of date version of Final Cut Pro for my videos, because it’s the only one I know how to use. I rarely use HD, although one day I’d like to make a virtual reality video, give it the treatment. It’d probably be a bit wrong. Actually, it would probably be a farce. But I’d try, and that’s what it’s all about isn’t it? With the paintings, I’ve been waiting for months for my frames to dry because I painted them with oil paint, which is a bit silly, and it’s very cold in my studio and quite damp. Which means I have to sit and look at them and keep changing them — I can’t stop. They’re taking a long time.
self-portrait with a tiny little pecker and self-portrait with a king horn — can you explain the concept and process behind these works?
Titles are important to me. I have lots of words in my head, and notebooks full of titles for work I’ve yet to make. This was the case with these two self-portraits I made in 2015. They looked good on paper, so I just made them. I’ve made a self-portrait on a horse, one on a chaise lounge, one with swimming goggles, most recently a self-portrait with issues. If there is a concept, it’s the concept of making everything you think about wanting to make. I like the word "pecker" and I like the word "kinghorn". I had a friend at school whose surname was Kinghorn. That one’s dedicated to him.
How do you feel about London's art scene right now? Has stepping away from it for a while given you a new perspective?
I don’t really feel anything about it — it just is what it is. I do feel like it’s good to have a change. I ended up buying a Thermos Flask and an OS map and walking up mountains talking to goats. I felt a lot healthier. I don’t feel like I’m in a rush anymore. I don’t really want to be part of any scene.
When someone asks you to describe your work, what do you say?
I usually um and ah a bit. I usually say they should just look at it if they can be bothered. I usually say something about it being sad. I usually say something about it being happy. It just ends up being that way. I don’t expect everybody to like my work.
What would you like to change about the art world?
I don’t know. Forget the art. The world is in trouble.
I think I’ll stay in West Norwood for a while then maybe go to Eastern Europe. My brother lives there and I miss him. And I’ve got a thing for cesnaková polievka. Work-wise I’m just going to carry on. There’s a lot to do.
Photography Maxwell Tomlinson