Portfolio: Jimmy Merris

James Carr, Oskar Kokoschka and a goat: Jimmy Merris shares a series of images that are important to him

Courtesy the artist

His Highness, the Mighty Conquering Goat of Nant Gwynant. Courtesy the artist

His Highness, the Mighty Conquering Goat of Nant Gwynant, September 2015

I moved to the mountains recently – the ones in North Wales. So, imagine, there I am, old nature boy, walking around with my compass and my Kendal Mint Cake, talking to myself in a Liverpudlian accent, making landscape videos near to Dinas Emrys (where the red dragon mashed up the white dragon), and I only go and bump into this joker. 

I had jerk goat once in south London, but I’ve never seen one walking the streets. He’s always hanging around in that same spot, looking shifty. We’ve had staring competitions. 

The first time I saw him, I could’ve sworn he was mocking me, mocking my oeuvre. ‘You call that art?’ Now I think, he’s OK. He knows where I’m coming from, even if the humans don’t.

Oskar Kokoschka with outstretched tongue

I went to Vienna a few years ago and saw some Oskar Kokoschka paintings at the Leopold museum. I like his paintings, his self-portraits, especially At the Easel (1922). This is actually a photograph of a postcard that I gave away to somebody, so I don’t know the year it was taken.

‘Oh, he’s a character!’ they say. Kokoschka famously commissioned a life-sized replica of his lost love, Alma Mahler. It features in some of his paintings, but Kokoschka compared it to a polar bear and eventually decided to do away with it. 

‘I gave a big champagne Party with chamber music, during which my maid Hulda exhibited the doll in all its beautiful clothes for the last time. When dawn broke – I was quite drunk, as was everyone else – I beheaded it out in the garden and broke a bottle of red wine over its head.’

Jonathan Pike, Marudi, Sarawak, 1982

Jonathan Pike, Marudi, Sarawak, 1982

Jonathan Pike, Marudi, Sarawak, 1982

My uncle Jonathan, or Jon for short, painted this in 1982. It’s been in the sitting room at my mum’s house for years, hanging on the wall next to the TV, which is probably why I’ve studied it so much. I asked him about it recently: the woman was actually looking in a purse while shopping for vegetables at a market. 

Jon’s a well-known watercolour painter now; he makes regular trips to Venice to paint the buildings:

‘In a boat most of the day but not a gondola they bob up and down so that the paint goes everywhere so when you’re doing a loose bit or a wash your hand wobbles.’

A few years ago, Jon and I fabricated a story about discovering an audio recording of JMW Turner talking about his paintings in Venice. Jon did Turner’s voice, popping bubble-wrap in the background to make a crackling sound, and I did the post-production, pitching his voice up and adding some filters.

The recording was said to have been ‘unearthed in a house in Verona in 1986 (virtually inaudible, damaged due to flooding), and digitally enhanced by Giovanni Pico, who used to work for La Web-radio dell’Università di Verona. The voice is thought, by some experts, to belong to Turner because of the reference to Ruskin, who is known to have acquired some of his watercolours.’

I was expecting big things. I emailed it to info@tate.org.uk, but didn’t hear anything back so tried the National Gallery. Nothing. Unbelievable. In the end I just put it on YouTube. There’s only one comment:

‘This recording is very obviously fake. Note how someone is rustling plastic to simulate (badly) the crackle heard on an old wax cylinder.’

Self-portrait, 1993/4/5

My first proper self-portrait. I think I was about 10, and I really, really tried. FA Cup ears. I think I went in hard with an HB pencil on the hair and used a 4B for the rest, working the finger and the putty rubber. I ripped it out of a scrapbook recently. It’s the only picture on my wall in the studio. I look at it and think: That’s me that is. But I was doing my best, and that’s all that counts, apparently. 

I’d sell it to someone for all of their hundreds of pounds, but I don’t think anyone would buy it. I couldn’t let it go anyway. They can have a photocopy: 50 quid. Make the work you want to see and all that. Come to think of it, it’s a shame to lose any of it really.

James Carr, You Got My Mind Messed Up, 1992

This a screen-shot from a video on YouTube. It’s one of the best videos I’ve ever seen. Look at his face. I’m not going to write anything else.

Jimmy Merris is an artist who lives in Nant Gwynant, North Wales, UK. His upcoming solo show at Seventeen gallery, London, runs from 21 April to 28 May 2016.

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