Richard Merkin, painter, raconteur, flâneur, first came to my attention in the pages of GQ magazine where he was the “Style Guy,” a post now occupied by Glenn O’Brien. Later I caught a glimpse of him in Alan Flusser’s books. And finally, he was mentioned by a member of The London Lounge who is a friend of his.
Who is this enigmatic, incredibly well-dressed man? He is an artist. And he lives his aesthetic. I admire that.
In fact, I aspire to it.
You may recognize his covers for The New Yorker. Or perhaps you are vaguely aware that he appeared on an album cover once: “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (back row, just right of center.)
Above, in the two pictures, is the man himself as seen in Alan Flusser’s latest “Dressing the Man: Mastering the Art of Permanent Style.” (Highly recommended reading as Flusser is a bit of a stickler for details of the 1930’s and the book is well illustrated with photos and drawings.)
On another man these combinations might be considered too costume-y…. but take a look at his art work…
He paints “things most people don’t know about.” You may catch a Turkish cigarette, a bowler, a famous sports star or literary lion in his works. You will also catch a glimpse of Mr. Merkins’ life… whether real or imagined. He paints the legacy of the Jazz age, that jumbled up party feeling that anything may happen at any time. (Maybe. Art critic I am not.)
A graduate of and professor at RISD, Merkin has been described as Rhode Island’s “most successful New York artist.” He has also been described by Tom Wolfe.
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.
Well how else should one create one’s own legend?
(All images from the Carrie Haddad Gallery)
If I had the wherewithal, I would have a Richard Merkin. And a splendid wardrobe to rival his own. Artists can get away with it. So, too, eccentric collectors.
Want more? See him on Charlie Rose discussing the Tijuana Bibles and other “outlaw” comics.