The word “escapism” can have a negative meaning, suggesting that escapists are unhappy and unable to connect with the world around them. It sounds like a surreal concept, but in our every day lives, on social media for example, we find ways to divert from reality. Daniel Merriam’s recent exhibition at AFA Gallery challenges the notion that escapism is fundamentally negative. “It’s not a sin, it’s not a crime, it’s not a disease… You think of escapism as being denial. So a little bit of escapism is considered good – too much is not,” he shares. “Now You See Me: The Art of Escapism” is Merriam’s reflection on this idea.
If Daniel Merriam’s watercolors were books, they would be fairytales once upon a time in a far away European dreamland. The painter, who is currently exhibiting at AFA Gallery (covered here), compares his process to a writer’s. In our recent interview, Merriam told us about the influence of 17th and 18th century Baroque architecture on his works which he draws from memory. Although imaginary, his elaborate structures must be believable in their world, and he builds them out carefully as a point of reference. In this sense, one could also call him an architect.
It might surprise some that watercolorist Daniel Merriam, known for his stylized, fantastic paintings, grew up in a sleepy summer resort town. There were none of the castles or glorious architectural forms found in his works – their foundation and beauty lies purely in his imagination. He finds such beauty in the world around him, whether it be a building, a landscape, or a creature. All of these things create a place he “escapes” to in his current exhibition, “Now You See Me: The Art of Escapism” at AFA Gallery in New York.
One could say that Surrealism as a movement is a way for artists to seek distraction from the mundane and engage in fantasy. On his current exhibition at AFA Gallery, painter Daniel Merriam shares, “Although I may be guilty of a little denial, it’s enabled me to go to the edge and back, which is kind of where people expect an artist to go.” Spanning over 20 new watercolor paintings, titled “Now You See Me: The Art of Escapism”, he allows himself to overcome the limitations of reality in this latest series.
Surrealist art is often highly cryptic and the odd juxtapositions and ambiguous narratives can sometimes feel unnerving. This is understandable given the contradictory space between the subconscious and reality that surrealist artists navigate in their creative process. In the hands of self-proclaimed surrealist Daniel Merriam, however, the results of this process are entirely different. Merriam draws inspiration from both his fantasies and surrounding reality to create works that are both deeply pleasurable and immediately enticing. His imaginative paintings depict fantastical worlds filled with bubbles, flying fish, instrument-playing animals and tree-house castles, all rendered in dreamy watercolors.