he 1970’s artistic legacy of Merrill Wagner lives on in her studio, her art, but stammers in her mind. The wild stories, people, and experiences of her past are forgotten, but at the same time will never be lost.
The unconventional materials Wagner used within her work have evolve with time. The range of materials were found in everything around her from the booming industrial city to the wide plains of Pennsylvania and Tacoma, Washington. The use of canvas, linen, tape, slate, and steel to create site specific, large explorations into color. Wagner’s work records what is already in the landscape through the study of time or from memory of the moments spent in the landscape. By painted sun trails Wagner highlights and observes something that is already present verses independent mark making.
Lily Pendery is working as Merrill Wagner’s studio assistant for the past two and a half years, tasked with the job of archiving her work. Pendery presented herself almost as Wagner’s mind. Their connection runs deep where Lily appears to be Merrill’s voice and her memories Through her time working with the retired artist it was obvious she gathered so much information on Wagner’s life, art, and process.
New York was a central aspect to Wagner’s work with the materials found and used to create. As materials were pick up along the way so was inspiration. As seen in the flower series, circular cut outs were found and used due to the scrap metals peculiar shapes. She enjoyed the angular cuts and how the materials had a different purpose before becoming art.
The more abstract the art is the closer it is to nature, but this depends on the landscape. The geometry of colors in a landscapes has drawn her to the process in which she has found success. Inspirations comes from what she sees. Wagner would paint upon larger canvases away from the landscape to practice from a thought and create how she remembers the land to look.
“I don’t have a rule about how I think, when I see things I think of it in the moment”
Sarah Lawrence moved her to the East Coast. She joined an Art Students League as a lot of friends were artists. One friend, Edmund Dickenson, was a colorist whom peaked he interest into really observing color. Throughout her work representational landscapes were created when she is in the country. The unusual shapes drew her in to paint and play with the traditional landscape. Wagner would paint with her hands, conduct studies, and soaking up nature as source material for later use in the city.
There was a glimpse into her earlier art days through the stories Lily would answer our questions with. Describing Wagner driving up to the house with a truck full of steel. That her studio helper since the early years never saw her paint concluding that she would work a lot at night. Also nights full of celebration where Wagner would bring people into the studio during parties in the 1970s. The New York art scene was on the come up during this time. She lived through it all with her husband, Robert Rymond, she was in the upper elite of the New York artists.