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James Meyer monograph - 2005

Introductory Essay

Like the mathematical equations surrounding a lone figure in James Meyer's 1981 painting, Transformer, the narratives in Meyer's paintings beg to be deciphered. The retrospective view presented in this book (exhibitions from 1991-2005) shines a light on recurrent themes and patterns in the shadow-filled world of the artist's imagery.

It is a world full of contradictions and juxtapositions, with layers of meaning and possible interpretations: white dots in a dark sea can be viewed as micro or macroscopic; a child might be running in play or fleeing in terror. This indeterminate nature gives Meyer's work a sense of palpable tension, belied by the lighthearted nature of many of his subjects, often children caught in moments of play. But into their games, the "real" world intrudes. In an early work, Formal Function, 1993 (pg 68), an image of boys dressed as Indians sits above an image of men standing in business suits. In a work from 2003, Atlas (pg 36), a young girl walks contemplatively; below her, the title is written in large letters, suggesting the reality of life's burdens.

Meyer's most recent watercolors for a 2005 exhibition at Sandra Gering Gallery feature children on amusement park rides juxtaposed with images of people in third world countries. In Not Untitled, a boy drives a go-cart while to one side of him, white-robed men in a desert landscape attempt to scale an embankment. Are they aspiring to this world of extraneous pleasures? Or observing with detachment the elaborate lengths we go to in order to fill our time? In either case, the boy is oblivious to them, wrapped up in his own fantasy of being behind the wheel, in control.

The mathematical equations in Meyer's Transformer speak of our need to understand (and perhaps control) the world around us. And isn't that desire one of the main incentives to play? As children pretend, explore, and take risks in their games, they unconsciously attempt to figure out the world and their place in it.

Coming full circle, this drive to decode, one of the essential tasks of childhood, mirrors the viewer's relationship with Meyer's paintings. And it is the impossibility of deciphering the narratives, the paintings' open-ended quality, that is so essential to Meyer's work. Is the child running to something? Or away? Contained within the pages of this book are not an equal number of stories and paintings, but a seemingly endless number of possible narratives.

- Marianna Baer

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