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Rowan Mersh 2

Thousands of seashells arranged by hand into hypnotic, concentric patterns - the intricacy of Rowan Mersh’s work only becomes evident when seen up close. “If there was a theme, I guess it would be a celebration of the materials I have the pleasure of working with,” says the artist, reflecting on the delicate sculptures he creates. Having graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2005 with a master’s degree in Mixed Media Constructed Textiles, Mersh has since translated his passion for texture and pattern into sculpture, using layers of paper-thin windowpane oyster shells and undulating waves of tusk-shaped dentalium shells, to name two of his preferred materials. “I try to use the inherent qualities and characteristics of the shells. It’s about listening to the materials because they are already doing something, and working with that.”

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Oct 16th 2017
Lois B-E

Responding to the natural architecture of each shell enables Mersh to create sculptures that appear almost to have grown organically, sprouting from walls or twisting up from the ground. A sensitivity to the architecture of natural forms means his pieces instinctively recall patterns found in nature, from the scales of a fish to the concentric folds of a flower’s petals, at once familiar but also reinterpreted in a new context.

The creation process of each of Mersh’s artworks mimics that of natural growth, as each piece slowly comes to life under the artist’s hand. The first of Mersh’s Dreamcatcher series – a lace-like web of sliced turritella shells – took 22 weeks to create, requiring hours of patient application by the artist. “The pieces are gigantic chunks of my life,” says Mersh of his process. “The headspace you’re in when creating the work can be the most enjoyable place in the world, but also the most difficult.” This hands-on approach to his work renders each piece a deeply personal essay, shaped by the experience of its creator. “If I’m having a good day, I tend to produce more elaborate marks, and when I’m not, I find I produce very tiny, intricate patterns – it’s very expressionist,” Mersh explains.

The role of this personal touch in shaping the character of each piece is also reflected in the materials themselves, which Mersh believes are made more beautiful by their unique character. “Every shell has a subtle variation to it,” he says. “The work gains a sort of quality from each shell being slightly imperfect – a kind of human quality you lose when you work with a man-made material. There’s a beauty in the uniqueness of the natural material that becomes apparent when you use it in multiples.” It’s this organic quality that Mersh believes his audience can relate to. “I think that subconsciously people have an affinity with the pieces because it’s easier to have a connection with something that’s not absolutely perfect,” he explains.

Despite the irregularities in his materials, Mersh’s sensitive and intuitive arrangement of the shells helps to create a captivating visual harmony, showcasing the often-overlooked beauty of a natural by-product. The laborious hours spent crafting each piece imbue Mersh’s work with a mesmerising level of detail; on the one hand, extraordinary for its intricacy and complexity, and on the other, relatable by its use of such a familiar, commonplace material. Elevating the everyday to the position of something precious runs as a theme throughout the artist’s work. By harnessing natural, ordinary materials to create something complex, beautiful and extraordinary, Mersh encourages new perspectives on objects we interact with regularly.

One of the most touching interpretations of this theme lies hidden within the soft, shimmering waves of thin oyster shell discs that form Mersh’s fragile circular wall piece Placuna Pro Dilectione Mea (2016). “That piece was a diary,” he explains, recalling its creation. “Many of the shells have been etched with messages that I wrote for a loved one who went away. We were apart for two and a half months, and every day I would engrave one of the shells with a small message for her.” In this way, a common experience of separation becomes enshrined as a precious work of art and a permanent tribute to a transient emotional state.

For Mersh, the potential to continue this celebration of natural materials and forms into other areas is limitless and something he is already exploring in his work. “I’m looking at minerals at the moment,” he explains. “Some types of stone are essentially fossilised shell, so there’s a logical transition into rock and stone from this point too.”

Like his work, Mersh’s artistic direction is set to develop naturally. “Up until now I’ve gone where the wind has taken me,” he says. “Who knows which way it will blow next?”



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