Like a Narnian portal, Daniel Merriam’s work is one of transport. Without the flick of a wand, his fairies carry you off to carnivalesque and ‘Peter Pan-ish’ neverlands. Merriam was born and raised in the United States and spent his early years working in architectural design. Merriam is also the founder and owner of Bubble Street Gallery, a California-based ’emporium’ of artistry and imagination.
The Custodian: I see the theme of ‘the dream’ in everything that you do. You call Bubble Street the ‘realisation of a dream’. You have books called Impetus of Dreams and The Art of Dreams. Your artworks are like the kind of wonderlands we glimpse a few times in a lifetime in those dreams we wish we’d never woken up from. How have dreams shaped your passion for your work?
Daniel Merriam: It’s not accidental or academic that I have become an artist. My work has manifested by way of an overactive imagination in a child who was, in ways, deeply troubled. The drawings and paintings were a way I found to manage or balance the horror and chaos that shook and nearly shattered my world. It is by daydreaming I have survived and by painting I’ve fixated the dreams of my choice in a manner that is best suited for the art world rather than any other existence.
Today I approach my painting subjects with a sense of responsibility to that dream as that is the well from which I drink. Above all the rhetoric you can find riddled through the art world for the past thirty years, the fruits of the imagination still stand as the most renewable and deeply human resource we have available to us.
I not only cut my teeth as an architect but as a political cartoonist. I discovered the power of the pen just before I discovered the eminent power of censorship. It’s not until we have our freedoms threatened that we realise how powerful and fragile our freedom to dream actually is.
C: Do you have a story for each painting? I feel like I could pick any one and come up with a fairytale in seconds…
D: My paintings are vehicles for my dreams, not simply the product of them. This allows the viewer to pick up where I left off and rewrite the endings a thousand times. I never want them to end, so I limit any motion or expression that could facilitate the means to an ending. The painter captures time in a context that is selected, whether sequential or static. It is implied and perceived within the artist intent if they are aware of their medium.
C: What would you say are the illustrative works that influenced you when you were growing up?
D: My mother had collected a number of books illustrated by N.C. Wyeth, Maxfield Parrish, Doré just to mention a few. I was always impressed with the intonation of Norman Rockwell and his ability to observe and depict human character with such a consistent and communicative style. I later learned that these illustrators were classically trained and carried the torch for figurative art through the dark shadows cast on the art world after World War II and the effects of futurism. I found the back story of Alphonse Mucha to be a great example of the disparity between cultures and art, both regionally and politically. I think my work incorporates a turn of the 19th and 20th century aesthetic, underpinned by the traces of discipline still haunting the lore of artists who frequented my home state of Maine.
C: Can you tell me a little more about Bubble Street?
D: I would like to think of Bubble Street as the seed from which an actual street in my style may grow. Like many things I dream up, they may live in my mind as future dream food, but some of them may slip through the cracks and take seed in the real world. As it stands, Bubble Street is my emporium of found objects and found artists collaborating with my own art in an environment that stays true to the vernacular. The world is still my venue for exhibition. Bubble Street is a brick and mortar edifice of an artist’s intent.
C: Have you ever considered hosting any Steampunk/Victorian cosplay events there?
D: I would welcome any excuse to get dressed up in a costume and mingle with other enthusiasts.
C: Initially you were trained as an architect. Which architectural styles do you think most factor into your idea of the fantastic?
D: Much can be said about the high of Rococo and its patterns of ornament. I consider myself a student of the Eastlake school not only from the European camp but the extrapolation that occurred in the US after Eastlake had peaked. I particularly liked the transitional styles as Victorian morphed into Art Nouveau. The grotesques and ornament from the Renaissance Revival period benchmarked a height of design that was sadly disrupted at its peak by mass deaths and the fear of ghosts (bye-bye to angels in the architecture). There was a Jules Verne sensibility to these aesthetics that benefited from the naive age of early globalisation. The diversity of materials and motifs woven together by classically disciplined architects rivaled the Romans and economised on the frivolity of Rococo and the redundancy of Moorish patterns. Untethered by the dogma of religion and untainted by the interests of a corporate world, design was empowered by the past and the future. I wish I could have visited Paris before the recking ball.
C: Where are you exhibiting in 2015? London I hope?
C: For certain a Merriam exhibit in London is long over due. I have been exploring a few options and expect to have something arranged in the near future.
My scheduled exhibitions in the US in 2015 are: