Merill Comeau



Artist Statement

Family of Origin is a therapeutic term identifying caretakers and siblings that a person grows up with, or the first social group a person belongs to, often a person’s biological or adoptive family. As a teaching artist for the Department of Youth Services I make art with youth at risk. My students range from 14 to 22 years of age and are in the Massachusetts Court system serving sentences in secure treatment facilities. Frequently they have experienced trauma within their Families of Origin and often do not identify with society’s idealized image of well-functioning ‘normal’ family. I share a similar feeling of disconnectedness between media images and my experiences of family and community. In my art practice I investigate this tension symbolically as I contemplate the challenges of our larger human family. By deconstructing and reconstructing textiles and altering clothing, I disrupt, reorder, and rebuild real or imagined narratives. My stories take the shape of murals and garments that explore historical and contemporary women’s roles: the toil of the maker, the privilege of the wearer, the job of mothering, how to be a ‘good’ daughter, and societal expectations for sexual and emotional expression.

My current body of work is titled Repair and consists of four series.

1. My Foundational Garments Collection is created from white shirts worn by my family and me. Altered, embellished, and frequently titled with family phraseology, these garments convey covert stories the viewer must imagine.
2. In Sins of the Mother Rest Heavily, I compost Toile fabric (characterized by fanciful imagery of landscape and childhood) to create a new material that is dirty, worm eaten, and torn. I patch together the resulting mismatched snippets with hundreds of stitches. The new images tell disjointed tales -- a physical act of exploding myth and reconstructing narrative. The surface is untidy with trailing ends of thread revealing the messy construction of a restructured life.
3. My Bodice Ripper murals explore beauty arising from debris symbolizing the creation of new life from tragedy. Assembled from deconstructed, decrepit antique clothing, sweet flowers grow through frayed, disintegrating fabric. The clothing evidences lives lived through wear and stains; flora hints of passions. All is held together with exposed, painted lines of thread.
4. While creating my materials, I am often undoing another woman’s stitches. The ongoing installation Women’s Work is Never Done is an honorific response: an attempt (often clumsy) to teach myself traditional skills by mimicking fabric manipulation techniques used in clothing construction.

As an artist I draw from three levels of experience: my own life, moments I witness in the lives my students, and what I learn about the conflicts in the wider world. As my small part of contributing to society, I create opportunities for youth to express themselves. In my art, my performative tasks of seam ripping, laundering, ironing, and stitching afford me opportunities for processing individual and collective trauma. I literally and symbolically mend and repair -- an act of exorcising memory and building hope.


This page was last updated 5 May 2016

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