For over six decades, Mernet Larsen has created narrative paintings depicting hard-edged, enigmatic characters that inhabit an uncanny parallel world filled with tension and wry humor. Larsen employs various spatial systems that often contradict: combining reverse, isometric, and conventional perspectives, she casts everyday scenarios into a vertigo-inducing version of reality akin to our own. Drawing from influences that range from the non-objective geometries of Russian Constructivism to Bunraku puppet theater and Indian miniatures, her works take compositional cues from art of the past as springboards for uniquely spatial figure-paintings that speak to the anxieties of the present. Developed over the last 40 years, Larsen’s independent and meticulous approach to representational painting “reaches toward, not from, life.”
Larsen’s interest in representation stems from a turning-point in 1999, about which she recalls: “I decided that I wanted to paint old-fashioned narrative paintings with volume and depth and the essences of significant actions. I developed a longing for pictures evoking a classical sense of permanence, solidity, in the spirit of 15th century Italian painting. But I knew that essences must be constructed, not uncovered.” With an emphasis on paring down, understanding, and manipulating the spatial elements of narrative painting, in the decades that followed Larsen sought to utilize the language of abstraction—rather than illusionism—as a means to access a more authentic form of representation. Delving into the non-objective compositions of touchstones such as Kazimir Malevich, Sophie Tauber-Arp, and most significantly El Lissitzky, Larsen riffs off of abstract forms as parameters for free-association, slowly building geometric structure into a psychological ordering of space to construct what curator Veronica Roberts calls “some of the most beguiling and psychologically complex narrative paintings of the 21st century.”
Mernet Larsen (b. 1940, Houghton, Michigan) has exhibited extensively since the late 1970s and has been the subject of over thirty solo exhibitions, including Mernet Larsen: The Ordinary, Reoriented, Akron Art Museum, 2019, and Getting Measured: Mernet Larsen, 1957-2017, Tampa Museum of Art, 2017. She has been featured in more than seventy group exhibitions, including presentations at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington D.C., the American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, NY and multiple other exhibitions in London and New York. Her work is in numerous collections, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN; the Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art, Cornell Fine Arts Museum, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida; the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel; and the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, among others. Larsen received her BFA from the University of Florida, and her MFA from Indiana University. She lives and works between Tampa, Florida and Jackson Heights, New York.