Clayton Merrell grew up in Pittsburgh, PA, and Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela. He studied painting and printmaking at Brigham Young University and the Yale School of Art, where he earned an MFA in 1995. He received a Fulbright Grant to Oaxaca, Mexico in 1996-97. His work is exhibited and collected widely, with recent exhibitions at: The American Embassy in Belmopan, Belize; Slow Gallery, Chicago; The Roswell Museum and Art Center, Roswell NM; Concept Gallery, Pittsburgh PA; the A+D Gallery, Chicago; and the Chautauqua Institution, Chautauqua NY. He was the 2005 Artist of the Year at The Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, Pittsburgh PA. He has received awards and grants from the Pro-Arts Foundation, Skowhegan, the Millay Colony for the Arts, the Blue Mountain Center, the Vermont Studio Center, Artists Image Resource, and the Center for the Arts in Society. During 2004-05 he was a fellow at the Roswell Artist-In-Residence Foundation. He is currently an Associate Professor of Art at Carnegie Mellon University.
Dwayne Butcher: What brings you to CAA this year? Any particular panels, sessions or is it just a good reason to come to New York?
Clayton Merrell: This year for me, it is mostly a good excuse to come to New York? (Carnegie Mellon) is conducting preliminary interviews for our Sculpture position. It is always good to come and see people, people I have not seen in a long time.
DB: Can you talk about your experience of interviewing at CAA?
CM: I interviewed for many positions at CAA, back in the day. But, not for the position I have now. We actually just had a discussion in our department that we do not like to conduct interviews at CAA because it is such a weird environment. The amount of stress that everyone is under, it is almost unfair to the candidates, because of the pressure cooker quality of the conference. We find that people are more relaxed under different circumstances. That was certainly the case with my interviews.
DB: So, what kind of things are you working on in the studio?
CM: Right now I am working on these medium scale drawing/paintings that are prepatory works for large-scale paintings. I just bought a bunch of giant stretcher bars, 8′ and 6′ in length, to get ready for this summer. So, now I am working on these 22″ x 30″ sketches for the larger paintings, working through a lot of ideas. I am painting a lot of explosions, actually. Explosions are on the brain, exploding landscapes, combing very pretty, very delicate elements with some chaotic imagery.
DB: Talk about some of your upcoming activities? Do you have any future exhibition or travel plans?
CM: I am taking a sabbatical next year, so, I am looking forward to doing a lot of stuff, travel wise. I have a show this summer at the Chautauqua Institute in upstate New York. I have an exhibition at the Caseworks Project in Memphis, TN….
DB: Which will be the highlight of the year for Memphis.
CM: Oh, I assume so. I am also applying for several residencies and will probably head down to Mexico for a couple of months. I used to live in Mexico and look forward to going back for several months. I will do that and set up a show (in Mexico) for the work I will make while visiting.
DB: Is there a particular region or scenery that you prefer to visit that will benefit the work?
CM: I don’t know about for the work, really. Being in different places in general make there way into the work. I am not one of those people that travel around looking for inspiration.
DB: So, your landscapes are invented?
CM: They are totally made up. I do not use any photo references. I tried plein air once and it was a disaster. I took a large canvas outside once and hung it upside down on these two large posts and painted it like it was above me, like it was the sky. I thought it would be a funny twist on plein air painting, but it was a terrible painting.
DB: What is your favorite artist, book, color, smell and food.
CM: I hate these questions. I will do book first, Let’s Talk About Love by Carl Wilson. Artist? It depends on who I am looking at, at that moment. Food: Extremely spicy Mexican Food. Color: It is not an individual color but I combination of colors. I will have to show you swatches. Smell: Ha, I have no idea.