The world is wondrous, and ready to enchant us. The world is alive, down to its last scintilla. The world is visible, even in its imaginable realms.
These are the precepts that emerge when we immerse ourselves in Unseen Universes, the recent series of paintings by Merrill Steiger. The sense that the world is prepared to reveal itself is embodied in silent, symbolic images, rather than spoken aloud. In bold forms and subtle intimations, however, Steiger works insistently to wake us up to her feelings for the life that both surrounds us and pervades our very being.
In Steiger’s paintings, we enter into a largely biomorphic realm in which we recognize various forms of organic growth: cells, fronds, trees, eyes, organs. And we can identify the non-living forms of suns, stars, jewels, and mandalas. The animate and the inanimate create a seamless continuum of manifestations that are clear, vivid, and mutually arising from a common source of cosmic energy. The artist’s perspective here embraces vast orders of magnitude, ranging from the molecular, to the terrestrial, to the galactic. But the sense of expanded dimensions reaches even wider yet, from the social stirrings of modest microbes to our deepest yearnings for spiritual transcendence.
The perception of universal continuity that Steiger reveals takes on a sharply focused, phantasmagoric intensity in her highly graphic, almost pop images. Form is simplified and stylized, color is almost hallucinatory in its saturation, organic life assumes a kind of decorative splendor. We have a sense that in this vision, joy, clarity, and wholeness are not far-off ideals, but the natural state of all things.
At the same time, Steiger’s paintings are infused with a buoyancy, quirkiness, and sense of humor. They are highly personal, yet share a kinship with a variety of aesthetic sources. While never directly quoting their origins, they seem to echo with a range of styles: Aboriginal Australian art, Indian tantric motifs, biological diagrams, 20th century painting, 1950s modernist design, and 1960s cartoon imagery. Particular connections could be made with the work of a number of Surrealist-influenced artists, particularly Miro and Picasso. Part of the strength of this work is that, like its subsuming of orders of magnitude, it gathers into itself all of these diverse sources and makes something new.
Long ago, art was a repository of wisdom, both worldly and divine–an image-book of ways to know the world. Merrill Steiger posits her vision of the world yet unseen for our contemplation, for our enlightenment, and for our delight.