Feature Articles

March Issue 2002

SC State Museum in Columbia, SC, Features Works by Gene Merritt

The work of a Rock Hill resident who has become a prominent self-taught artist is featured in the newest exhibit at the SC State Museum in Columbia, SC. Paperwork. Gene Merritt Drawings from the Permanent Collection will be on view through Aug. 18, 2002. On April 20, Merritt will be in the gallery to talk with visitors. Paul Matheny, the museum's chief curator of art, will also be on hand and will give a tour of the exhibit.

Merritt, who lives in Rock Hill, is the "most internationally recognized art brut artist in the United States," Matheny says. Art brut, French for "raw art," is a term for very uninhibited art, art not affected by the study of art.

Merritt's style of drawing is remarkably different from anything I have ever seen before. It is genuine, raw and original. There's nothing else like it," Matheny says. About 30 of his drawings will be exhibited. Also included will be ten photographs by Swiss photographer Mario Del Curto from the recently published book Outlanders: Forging Ahead with Art Brut.

When Merritt was an infant, a high fever left him with a mental disability. "It has shifted his reality and perspective of reality away from what we typically understand as usual," Matheny says. Merritt has no academic background. He has never been to museums. He reads no art books. "It's almost as if he's living in a complete vacuum as far as art is concerned," he says.

However, in the early 1990s, his life changed when he decided to draw some ice skating penguins he saw on a highchair in Watkin's Grill, a diner in Rock Hill. Merritt draws on notebook paper with a pen. His subjects reflect popular personalities, such as John Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley, his personal history, and his community, including Glen the Frog, the mascot of Rock Hill's "Come See Me" festival. "He creates his art work from his own personal desire to create," Matheny says.

The importance of Merritt's drawings first was recognized in the early 1990s. Since then his "paperwork" as he calls it, has been exhibited in Switzerland, Paris and Hong Kong, as well as in South Carolina.

For more information check our SC Institutional Gallery listings,call the museum at 803/898-4921 or on the web at (http://www.museum.state.sc.us).

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