Interview by Jonathan Patrick
"...le mieux est l'ennemi du bien."
"(...perfect is the enemy of good.)"
Merrilee Challiss recently invited us into the waking dream that is her studio full of nooks cozy with the words and images of Haekel and Harper, succulent shrines, a work space more like an altar to ancient spirits captured on canvas, and a thousand sequined eyes whose pupils watch you watch yourself. She spoke with us about the necessity of acknowledging our environment in a way only our ancient ancestors knew how, how her work is a cry for community and empathy, and what I can only describe as (wo)mankind's need to return to some great mother. Below is a brief first part of what we spoke about.
Lots and lots of spiritual and totemic vibes are apparent here in your work.
Yea, I'm definitely influenced by African art, Paleolithic art, indigenous art, and Also by people like Ernst Haeckel. Do you know who he is?
He was a scientist and illustrator, a contemporary of Darwin. I'm influenced by him and also by Charlie Harper, an artist and illustrator. Their work excites the realms of wonder and imagination through this propagation of intelligence that we see in evidence in all forms in nature. That idea - that everything is connected - that it is ALL one thing- is a big part of my work, so I am connecting and engaging with the natural world and the spirit world through my art. I guess that's how I'm trying to insinuate my role as an artist in society.
That's interesting, because early indigenous peoples, immersed in the natural world, expressed that propagation so well in their art; art made from looking to the skies or praising their crop.
Well, they were definitely in more of a natural rhythm with all of the systems on earth. There's an archaic revival happening now, there's a mass extinction happening now, and we are also in a technical and informational revolution- so what we're living through is such an insanely chaotic time. I think this return to something that is more primal and more archaic (more rooted in interdependence) is really our only hope forward, because we have to remember that we're all connected. All these ideas have been converging for me as a maker and an artist, which sounds kind of wacky, but the act of putting one sequin on, then another sequin on, and having a breath or a thought in between that, you know, the whole work as a process becomes a meditation, a way to slow time down. It's kind of like my strategy for surviving these challenging times (laughs).
Yea. In the sequined work, and maybe even in your dense line work, the meditative aspects are pretty hypnotic. I get kind of lost in its repetition.
Yea, I always try to find patterns in nature. The work is just patterns, really. And if you think about some of the most compelling contemporary theories of physics, they say that the whole universe is made of vibrations, or that the universe is conscious. I see these sequins as these dots of light, these individual points of data, pointing to whatever the great mystery is.
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