Richard Merkin, American (1938 - 2009)
Richard Merkin’s work conjures up scenes that evoke the raucous spirit of the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s. In his witty, often eccentric illustrations, Merkin depicts movie stars, jazz musicians, sports heroes and literary impresarios co-mingling with more personal references. In his highly stylized approach to the figure, Merkin privileges color relationships, balance and juxtaposition over strictly literal descriptions of his subjects. And humor; there’s always humor.
Merging his role as flaneur (connoisseur of city life) with his role as painter and social historian, Merkin retrieves lost cultural artifacts-a Turkish cigarette, a gangster, a bowler and generally 'things most people don't know about'-and reconstitutes their Jazz Age virtues on canvas in cubist, comic-laced landscapes of tropical color.
Tom Wolfe, author of Bonfire of the Vanities, wrote, "The typical Merkin picture takes legendary American images-from baseball, the movies, fashion, Society, tabloid crime and scandal-and mixes them with his own autobiography, often with dream-style juxtapositions."
Merkin was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1938, and holds degrees from Syracuse University and the Rhode Island School of Design. In 1962-63 he received a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Fellowship in Painting and, in 1975, The Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Award from The National Institute of Arts and Letters.
Merkin began teaching at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in 1963 and remained there for nearly 40 years. During this time, he built his reputation in New York. He is represented in the permanent collections of The Museum of Modern Art, The Smithsonian Institution and the Whitney Museum as well as many others. . Mr. Merkin has been a Contributing Editor for Vanity Fair since 1986 and a regular contributor of illustrations to The New Yorker since 1988, as well as Harper’s and The New York Time’s Sunday Magazine. From 1988-1991 he wrote a monthly style column for Gentlemen’s Quarterly. In 1995, he illustrated the book, Leagues Apart: The Men and Times of the Negro Baseball Leagues, (by Larry Ritter). He wrote the text and captions for The Tijuana Bibles, (Simon & Schuster, 1997
He also has the dubious distinction of appearing on the cover of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, (back row, right of center).
Exhibitions include: One man show at Obelisk Gallery Boston, 1965; group shows at DeCordova Museum, Lincoln Mass. 1963, 1964, 1965; Boston Arts Festival, 1962; Rhode Island Arts Festival, 1964.
Awards: Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Fellowship in Painting, 1963; First Prize, Providence Art Club Painting Annual, 1965; First Prize, Silvermine Guild, 1963.
Sometimes described as Rhode Island’s most famous New York artist, Richard Merkin has led a dual life for nearly 40 years - teaching at RISD while enjoying a celebrated painting career based in New York City. He has exhibited in countless gallery and museum shows in the US and abroad and is represented in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution, The Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum, the RISD museum and many others. In addition to contributing drawings and paintings to The New Yorker, Harper’s, The New York Times, Sunday Magazine and several books, he is a contributing editor for Vanity Fair and a former style columnist for GQ. Merkin’s honors include a Tiffany Foundation Fellowship and the Rosenthal Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Museums and Selected Collections :
The American Federation of Arts, New York, NY
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY
Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA
First city Bank, Chicago, Ill
Fisk University Art Gallery, Nashville, TN
Hallmark Collections, Kansas City, MO
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA
Maimi-Dade Junior College, Miami, FL
Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Minnesota Museum of Art, Minneapolis, MN
Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, RI
McClung Museum, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN
Pennsylvania Acadamy of the Arts, Philadelphia PA
Prudential Insurance Company, Boston, Ma
Prudential Insurance Company, Newark, NJ
Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA
Sara Robey Foundation, New York, NY
Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
State University of Brockport, Brockport, NY
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
Selected Publications :
1986-Present Contributing Editor, Vanity Fair ..1988-Present, New Yorker... 1988-Present, style column, GQ...1997, Text and Illustration for The Tijuana Bibles, published by Simon & Shuster, 1995, Illustrated book, Leagues Apart: the Men and Times of the Negro Baseball Leagues published by Morrow.
1967 Cover of the Beatles “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” Album (Mr. Merkin appears in the back row, right of center)