COMING FROM a German, Jewish childhood has both informed and characterised many aspects of Christine Merton’s sculpture. Marrying an Englishman and coming to live in England has certainly sealed some of these aspects along with a deep sense of ‘knowing her place’ as an alien. She has carefully learnt to tolerate racism and alienation and to use the emotion created by these things to fuel her own sense of being in her work.
Over the years her work has become more empowered with a sense of the self. Her pieces of sculpture always have a very self-contained feel about them; although some are quite small she is also capable of overpowering the spectator with large installation pieces which seem to emanate from a spirited source. Her work carries the sort of quality you experience when alone with an object of great history, but a history which is not written. A history which presents you with not just enigmatic feelings but with a real sense of presence. Keep has all these qualities (see front cover).
Many of her sculptural works have obvious links with Peruvian pots and vessels. There is a physical quality about her sculpture which is visually sensuous. The mark making on the surface, the combination of natural materials, the conscious use of ochres and the earthy glow from mixing different clays together in one piece, all enhance the actual quality of the finished work. All her work says something about her actual size, how much clay she can mold in one hand, how much she can carry, what she can fix together and how large a sculpture will grow. All these things are important aspects and this is why her finished pieces often involve several objects placed together, site-specific, yet very mobile and adaptable.
Within her areas of work she has progressively explored ways in which to adapt and open up possibilities within educational work with a range of children. What could be precious dissolves into the pleasure of making. She has developed projects around her work showing how to use all the basic methods of working with clay, slabs, coils and finger bowls. Christine
Merton has been involved in many projects and residencies with children from 8-10 years old. She has tried to adapt her work yet allow the children’s involvement to specifically enrich the sculpture.
A recent example of this educational work occurred at the Manchester Museum during a one-person show centred around the Metaphorical Vessel. It was an idea which attempted to blend together different cultures and traditions by using tree roots which resembled a popular fossilised tree root in the museum collection. She tried to bring together all these elements by constructing a large open vessel shape from the branches and canvas bound together with clay. As the first artist in residence at the museum she created a site-specific piece, a centre for some sort of ceremony which bound together the museum’s collection, objects from different cultures, natural history pieces and the settings made by over 200 children. These settings formed the outside edge of the bound branches, almost like place settings for a large feast, yet the objects were each child’s individual contribution. Christine Merton’s vessel could be read on many different levels but it seemed like a visual way of symbolising the way in which we all have specific links to our place of origin and that this often gives us a feeling, a sense of belonging. Currently she has been working on a new exhibition called ‘Clayworks’. Again as part of this exhibition she will be working on another project with the pupils and staff of St Peters RC High School in Orrell. This project will be called ‘House’ and will be the joint creation of the artist and the participating children. It will encourage ‘a journey through their imagination’.
The importance of this artist’s work cannot be overestimated. Her own finished pieces of sculpture remain enigmatic. They give a glimpse of sacredness, a sense of the spirit contained. In addition, her links with pupils from local schools are both innovative and important. It enables children to have direct contact with the artist and practically participate in the making of the finished piece. This work with children encourages understanding and tolerance to emerge and can truly inspire the child to continue to make ‘art’, to see exhibitions and where possible, to become involved. It can also be an enriching experience for the artist.
Christine Merton is on the fringe of the ‘art world circuit’. She should be better known and better shown.