Retrospective Exhibit Celebrates Artist Eleanor Merritt



The parking lots are full and so is the large conference room on the first floor of the Center for Arts and Humanity, where the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County is celebrating a community icon with the opening of a solo exhibition of the work of local artist Eleanor Merritt. Late arrivals crane for a better view as Merritt finishes an impromptu speech to rounds of applause and one woman standing to declare, “You are the greatest!” Merritt takes it in stride, saying only the show of support was “very special and very empowering.” She had thought this may be her last exhibit, she muses, “but after that show, maybe it won’t be.”

A known presence in the arts community since her arrival in Sarasota in the 1980s, Merritt has served on the board of the Arts Council, as president of the Venice Art Center and on the board of the Ringling Museum, where she was also a docent for 25 years. And as a member of the Florida Artists Group, Women Contemporary Painters, Petticoat Painters and Sarasota’s own Art Uptown artists collective, Merrit has devoted decades to her art. Entitled Sixty Years of Painting, 1957–2017, this exhibit offers a retrospective on Merritt’s acclaimed career through a series of more than 20 paintings adorning the halls and walls of the Center and leading the viewer through Merritt’s own journey of artistic self-discovery.

The exhibit is a “true retrospective,” says Merritt, in that to the careful viewer, it reveals more than just a chronology of paintings but an artist’s evolution over time. “I wanted to show that evolution,” she says, “and how it transformed my work and the way in which I painted.” With limited space on the walls, paintings were selected with purpose to represent pivotal moments in her career. As an indirect result, while many paintings in the show are for sale, many are also from Merritt’s private collection and available only for viewing.

Walking through the exhibit, certain consistencies in techniques manifest—the strong use of line and curve, the dynamic palette, a persistent figurative focus and a penchant for patterning—as do differences, such as the continual shift in medium from acrylics to oils to water-based and mixed-media. “I’ve been constantly experimenting and constantly looking for new ways to make the image,” says Merritt. “I like the material to allow me to be experimental.”

As for the artist moving forward, what the future holds, she can’t say. Will this be Eleanor Merritt’s last show? It seems doubtful. “I’ll just keep painting,” she says, “and see what happens.”

Sixty Years of Painting, 1957–2017 hangs at the Center for Arts and Humanity through February 27.

Pictured: Eleanor Merritt stands in front of her work. Photo by Michael White.

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