Lara Merrett’s artworks

As part of our Creation Station series, Lara Merrett reveals how her intuitive use of colour has enabled her to create huge, interactive canvases that enchant viewers.

Creation Station is RACV’s interview series looking into the artworks that are hidden in plain sight across our clubs and resorts. 

Lara Merrett’s work is hanging across three RACV venues: City Club, Healesville Country Club and RACV Hobart Hotel. Lara’s painting and colour play is encapsulating and demonstrates the strength of the abstract works in the RACV Art Collection. 

For Lara, colour is the way she experiences the world. She pours water-based paints or inks directly onto the canvas, layering colour to create organic compositions. These are not pre-meditated acts, and often unexpected forms or creations come out of this practice. 

Due to her intuitive process, a painting can take Lara three days or six months to complete, depending on the different personalities of the work.  

During trips to India and Spain, Lara was exposed to the vibrant colours of everyday life and that experience has deeply affected her art practice. Each work often informs the next, and her entire body of work has taken on elements similar to chapters. 

This is apparent when you see her work in the RACV Art Collection, which features three works of poured paint onto canvas, and her recent commission at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, in which her drop sheets become the works of art. This industrial material has allowed her to scale-up her paintings, as well as add an interactive element. 

You can find out more about Lara in this Club Highlights Q&A, conducted ahead of her three new exhibitions for 2021. 

Lara Merrett artwork

Lara Merrett, Endless Love, 2009, synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 153 x 122cm. Courtesy the artist, photographer Christian Capurro, RACV Art Collection 

An image of one of your three artworks from the RACV Art Collection, entitled Endless Love, accompanies this article. How did you arrive at that title for this artwork? 

I’m so attached to this work because I made it just after my son Lucien was born and everything in my world shrank and intensified. The work uses many circular, almost egg-shaped forms to frame the darkness. It was made very intuitively and centred on this raw protective emotion of love that continues on forever. 

When we engage with an artwork, there is a tendency to think there is something specific we should see or feel. How do you suggest viewers engage with Endless Love and your other artwork? 

I’m hoping the work is open enough to be read in many ways. My painting titles are ambiguous, allowing for many interpretations, and I hope this helps lead the viewer to their own experiences with the work. 

You pour water-based paints or inks directly onto the canvas, layering colour to create organic compositions. That sounds very freeform, yet you achieve a consistent aesthetic, which is uniquely your own. Is this something that has developed over your 27 years of practice, or was that visual language there from the start? 

Yes, it has been developing over years. The pouring has allowed a depth in the work and a break away from the earlier ‘flat’ paintings. This distinct visual language of pouring has been there from the start. However my response to it has changed over the years. 

You can spend weeks to months on an artwork. How do you know when it is finished? 

For me it’s really obvious when a painting is working. I can tell early on and how long it takes depends on each individual's work. It’s important that I have the confidence to trust my instincts with the work. I always make sure I’ve spent as much time looking as I have making. It has to almost walk off the canvas and become something more than its materials. 

You’ve said in a previous interview that your interest in fine art was sparked by a trip to New York when you were 16, when you visited MOMA, the Guggenheim, the Whitney and The Met. Can you remember any particular works or artists that opened up this possibility of becoming an artist? 

I think what really excited me at this age was seeing the large abstract expressionist works in the flesh and in abundance. They were all so much larger than I had imagined. The experience was an overwhelming sense of the scale in relation to my size. This sense of awe and wonder. Rothko, Pollock, Still, de Kooning and Elsworth Kelly. Also, I discovered Sean Scully – those painterly brush marks and colour combinations. Early on it was the seduction of painting that grabbed me. 

You travelled to India as part of The Freedman Scholarship you received in 2001. How did this influence your use of colour? 

I remember seeing all this colour being used in the everyday. From the women’s saris to the fabrics being washed outdoors to seeing cloth being made in the street. The colours were out of this world –fluorescent pinks and oranges. Then I saw the coloured pigments being sold at the markets for the Holi festival and other ceremonies. Seeing colour not just as decoration confined to the indoors but as a living and breathing entity in its own right was a ground-breaking shift in thinking for me. I definitely returned home with a larger palette and bravery to embrace the bold. 

In 2018, your Bella Room installation at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia included three canvases that were suspended like hammocks from the roof and visitors were able to lie down inside the hanging paintings. How do you think this kind of experience reframes our relationship to art as something precious and untouchable? 

I think this experience makes us open to the idea of sinking into an artwork, real or imagined, and allowing the work to hold us in a nurturing way and offers the possibility for fun. By breaking down the idea of ‘no touching’ we can let our other senses be part of the art experience. 

Are you working towards an exhibition at the moment? If so, what can we expect? 

Yes, I have a few different projects for 2021. I’ve just been commissioned by Shoalhaven Regional Gallery to make a participatory installation work as part of a curated exhibition Wonder+Dread in response to the extreme weather conditions. My installation What we leave behind invites the viewer to cut into the canvas and take away sections with them. This work was made outdoors on the NSW South Coast in Bendalong, an area that was badly affected by the Currowan fires. My home just survived however the surrounding area has been catastrophically burnt with only a few areas spared. This work is in response to this experience. 

The other work is a Laneways artwork project, Barlow St Forest, funded by The City of Sydney. I’ve joined up with five fellow artists and academics and we are planting a micro-biodiverse forest in the middle of the city. It’s been great teaming up with other artists to work on a living plant-based work and to put our energies into something we all feel incredibly passionate about. This will be up for six months and possibly longer. 

I also have a solo exhibition of new paintings at Jan Murphy Gallery in Brisbane in May 2021. 

Social media handles: 
Instagram: @laramerrett @janmurphygallery 

You might also like...