Merill Comeau, Fond Memories of Good Company, 2022. Collaged repurposed fabrics and ribbons, hand-stitched and embroidered with thread, 96 x 72 inches. Photo by the artist.

“Pandemic Projects” by Merill Comeau

Living in the isolation of the pandemic has caused a shift in my impulse to make–-my conceptual underpinnings and the imagery I employ reflect my current sense of absence and presence. Missing from my days is a consistent active engagement with others; present in my days is an increased awareness of my immediate environment. The continuity in my practice is my love of pencil on paper and the pleasure of working with repurposed fabrics, needles, and thread. My interest in using traditional media and techniques in new ways also endures.

Merill Comeau, Absence, 2022. Pencil on paper, 56 x 44 inches. Photo: Will Howcroft Photography.

I am an avid gardener and live with access to natural habitats. On my studio shelves are bits of flora and items from nature such as seed pods, nuts, and shells. In my series Archive of Specimens, I observe and document these elements by rendering them with pencil on paper, drawing them in thread on painted fabric, and then cutting them out. I stitched these cutouts to backgrounds not their own, creating a series of mismatched solids and voids. For example, a pine cone may be stitched to the open silhouette of a shell. This act expresses my fear of extinction and illustrates the possible resulting data loss. 

Merill Comeau, Archive of Specimens, 2022. Observational drawing with pencil, thread and collage, 72 x 96 inches. Photo: Will Howcroft Photography.

Merill Comeau, Archive of Specimens (detail), 2022. Observational drawing with pencil, thread and collage, 72 x 96 inches. Photo:Will Howcroft Photography.

My ongoing project, Fond Memories of Good Company, uses textiles from my dining room and kitchen that bear the marks of food preparation and consumption. They are  deconstructed and reconstructed into a patchwork ‘tablecloth’ which is then embroidered with outlines of tableware. Infill stitches surround forks, spoons, and plates in a variety of styles that evoke the possible documentation of the countless numbers of meals prepared and served. 

Merill Comeau, Fond Memories of Good Company, 2022. Collaged repurposed fabrics and ribbons, hand-stitched and embroidered with thread, 96 x 72 inches. Photo by the artist.

Merill Comeau, Fond Memories of Good Company (detail), 2022. Collaged repurposed fabrics and ribbons, hand-stitched and embroidered with thread, 96 x 72 inches. Photo by the artist.

I am a collector of small objects that embody memories. In a set of small boxes I keep little reminders collected since I was in my teens: my sister’s discarded doll house chair, my father’s watch, and my grandmother’s bracelet. In my drawing series Absence, these objects are grouped according to their meaning to me. Each object is traced and removed; the spaces between the tracings are infilled with marks. This delicately rendered emphasis on the residue of memory hints at untold childhood and family stories and our common human experience of longing for what no longer exists. 

Combining my fascination with domestic paraphernalia and my feeling of being haunted by memories, Object Permanence is a large two-sided drawing festooned with family hand-me-down chairs and ghostly images of photographs. The partially rendered chairs have been surgically sliced out of side a and stitched to side b, interrupting and continuing the drawing. These two sides prompt the viewer to read a story that cannot be seen in totality from one point of view or one physical stance. Visual dissonance is coupled with sensitive marks and washes of color conjuring up the complexity of family dynamics. 

Merill Comeau, Object Permanence (two-sided drawing), 2022. Collaged acrylic paint, fiber, pencil on paper, hand stitched, 108 x 42 inches. Photo: Will Howcroft Photography.

I am interested in everyday objects—what we select from the mundane flotsam and jetsam to keep. As humans we have the impulse to collect—a spectrum that ranges from hoarding to following gurus telling us to give away everything. I’m interested in institutional collection—what objects help us notice what is important or educate us about our past. I collect objects that carry meaning and memory for me. Elements of nature fill shelves in my studio, tidbits of my life and my children’s childhoods reside within my box collection, and items that refer to the human body are on collective display in my china cabinet. 

My collection of physical objects has evoked a fascination with the idea of absence. 

merillcomeau.com | @merillcomeau


–-Comeau is a mixed media and teaching artist exploring narratives as a mechanism to visually communicate and connect around common human concerns such as the inequitable use of resources, gender roles, the domestic sphere, and trauma.  She tells stories primarily through repurposed textiles and contemporary variations of traditional sewing processes.

1 Comment

  • Virginia Mahoney says

    September 25, 2022 at 7:40 pm

    Your words and thoughts about these objects feel very familiar. This is a beautiful story about your relationship with your work and the objects/materials in your life, that strikes a deep chord for me. Thank you for sharing this.

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