an angle on art
- By: Bob White
- Illustrations by: Galen Mercer
Galen Mercer’s Sense of Place
Galen Mercer doesn’t think of himself as an angling artist. In fact, during a recent examination of a quarter century of his work, Mercer was surprised to find that, of the hundreds of paintings he reviewed, only three or four actually contained anglers, and fewer still included fish. “I’ve always been far more interested in the sporting environs than the particulars,” he explained. “Except for scale, I’ve never felt compelled to ‘humanize’ a landscape. Quite the opposite.”
What’s important to Mercer is the feeling of a time and place, and painting as a form of visceral representation. “I try to communicate that same vital and unquantifiable something that first made me want to paint the scene,” he said. “There’s that spark, and I want to try to capture and share it with others.”
I am deeply drawn to Mercer’s work. He has a remarkable ability to capture mood in the angling scenes he paints, and by doing so he transports me into them.
In my mind, a successful painting elicits sensory responses beyond the visual. When I experience Mercer’s work I hear the wind driven before a coming storm, or the quiet murmur of a river at dusk. I smell hayfields wet from a sudden rain, or the peculiarly ripe scent of falling snow. I feel the warm sun on my back, and a chill on my face as I stare into the depths of a distant and shadowed riverbank. I taste salt air, spring breezes and dusty autumn afternoons.
Mercer has the extraordinary ability to distill the experience before him and communicate that rarified vision. He eliminates the busy details and extraneous noise, and comes to terms with precisely what’s at stake in any given scene, be it landscape, still life or portrait. And he courageously steps beyond the minutiae—where many painters take refuge—striking a remarkable balance between compressed expression and a lyric, almost fluid means.
Mercer studied formally for several years at a fine-arts school, but his artistic roots are much deeper. He’s the son and grandson of painters, and distinctly remembers accompanying his father into the field to set up and paint with him. And he credits that childhood home and his family as the greatest influences on his life as an artist. “I grew up surrounded by the arts, and particularly, painting. It was the sea we always swam in,” he recalled. “As children we used to go down to the art galleries in Toronto a couple times a month.”
When I asked Mercer what’s next, where he’d like to take his work, he replied, “Really, it just takes you . . . and if you’re smart, you follow. At the moment, I’m pretty interested in the way skies reflect and express certain attributes of the land; big soary things that seem to amplify a sense of place.”
If you’d like to see an archive of Mercer’s paintings that spans 25 years, or check out new work, go to: www.gmercerstudio.com ■
Contributing Editor Bob White is a writer and artist; see his work at www.bobwhitestudio.com