Mernet Larsen, “Explanation” (2007), acrylic, mixed media on canvas, 41 x 52 inches, Collection of the Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA (all images © Mernet Larsen 2021. Images courtesy of the artist and James Cohan, New York)
Mernet Larsen’s paintings gradually reveal themselves. At first, we might recognize the internal logic and structure of her compositions: their symmetry or the hard-edged geometry she uses to render characters and spaces. But the longer one stands in front of her paintings, the more quizzical and humorous they become. They evoke the anxieties of daily life, and yet there is delight in responding to the open-ended, sometimes absurdist questions they pose. Is the chicken a polite offering from a monk or is it under threat in this hand-off with an angel? Is the lifeguard presiding over the shore or wielding a rifle at a dystopian abandoned airport? Ordinary garden shears, a bald eagle, and a red truck become predatory symbols in a suburban street scene shown from various vertiginous perspectives.
Larsen spoke with me over video conference from her home in Tampa, Florida. Before our interview, we chatted about our daily routines — and how they had been changed by the pandemic. It was around the time of the holidays, but neither of us had much on our calendars. Her exhibition, Mernet Larsen, at James Cohan Gallery in New York was on view, but she was unable to travel to see it.