For Elspeth Merriman, shown at Side Gallery, Red Hill, April 2021
Elspeth Merriman is a Brisbane based artist working predominantly in illustration. Born in 1990, Merriman studied design in 2009 with a focus on digital illustration, however found the digital form stifled her ability to command an audience and communicate narrative. Merriman has since been committed to traditional methods of illustration, working with graphite, ink, and synthetic polymer. Elspeth’s ability to communicate an emotive narrative through intricate rendering remains consistent throughout her body of work, and strongly defined, black-and-grey illustrative style.
In ends there are beginnings, and Elspeth Merriman’s current series, Reclamation, is a celebration of her reclamation of self. Born of a renewed commitment to her craft and her identity as an artist following motherhood, her explorations of Toowong Cemetery have yielded a collection of intricate sketches that resonate with a deep humanity, expressing the connection between the ephemerality of human existence and the inevitable triumph of nature. Elspeth’s work relates the passage of time not just to an individual life, and applies it to the broader scope of human history. Even in the Anthropocene age, the impact of human creation is temporary, and even our best laid monuments will be reclaimed by nature. In graphite, she captures the richness of light and shadow, the textures of lichen, leaves, stone, and iron, as nature is interwoven with human artifice. As stone crumbles, iron rusts, weeds and flowers burst through the gaps, as the physical body returns to fuel new life. Elspeth’s work proposes that nature and civilisation are not mutually exclusive, part of a cycle in which one allows the other to bloom. However, in the wake of death, there is hope for the afterlife, and Reclamation captures the tender expressions of the living towards the deceased: flowers left upon a grave, a loving epigraph, speaking to our communal yearning to connect beyond death.
Reclamation follows the cycles of death and life, collapse and renewal. It is an act of restoration, as the artist explores the effect on self and of self in her growth as an artist. Merriman’s work places itself as a part of this cycle of creation, breathing new life into decay as she captures the beauty inherent in the act of civilisation returned to a former, natural state.