MW2003-002_Air-2003-27 x 87 1-2 inches-rust preventive paint on steel-001.jpg

Merrill Wagner, Air, 2003, 27 x 87-1/2", rust preventive paint on steel © Merrill Wagner

Merrill Wagner


Photography by Grace Roselli


b. 1935, Tacoma, Washington

Merrill Wagner is recognized for her paintings that exist as interstices between mediums, with emphasis on the materiality and malleability of paint itself, the gesture of the artist, and natural phenomena.

Time and duration are important concepts in her work, manifesting through allusions to the landscape, material and geologic processes, industrial processes, and the impermanence of paint. She has been mutually informed by representation and abstraction throughout her career, a symbiotic approach that began in the mid-1960s when she introduced colorful, hard-edged geometric landscapes into her previously representational approach.

Her primary concern with materiality and perception grew in the 1970s when she began working with tape, seen in her MoMA P.S.1, New York, installations Green Landing and Burgandy Landing (1978). She inherited the slate chalkboards removed from MoMA P.S.1 during its renovation in the 1970s and would go on to create her renowned Slate paintings from the broken slabs. This key moment highlights the artist’s experimental and expanded approach to drawing and painting which would later include materials such as steel and rock.

Wagner is renowned for creating site-specific interventions, such as A Calendar (1983)—featured her book Notes on Paint (1983–90)—in which paintings are left to fade over time. In addition to her abstract and site-specific works, she also maintained thirty-year cycle of representational landscapes, painted once a week, every week for an entire year. These small-scale paintings depict seasonal and quotidian scenes and suggest an intimate and deep understanding of painting from life.

Wagner has had numerous one-person exhibitions, including Landscapes of Colour/Landschaften der Farbe Große Kunstschau, Worpswede, Germany (2019); and Merrill Wagner at New York Studio School, (2016). Her first traveling survey Looking at the Land, was mounted at the Ben Shahn Gallery, William Paterson University (2006), before traveling to the University of Rhode Island in 2007. Group exhibitions include Postwar Women at The Art Students League of New York (2019); Between the Lines: American Abstract Artists Women's Exhibition, University of Tennessee, Knoxville (2018); Minimal Difference: Selected Work by Women Artists 1960s-1970s, the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, New York (2018); and American Abstract Artists: a Selection, Kent State University, Ohio (2013), among many others. Her numerous site-specific works also include Runaway Redyellowblue at the C.W. Post Center at Long Island University, New York (1993); Painted Sun Trails at William Paterson College, Wayne, New Jersey (1994); and Skewer presented at the Islip Art Museum in New York (2002).

MW1986-003_Outerbridge Crossing-1986-4 pieces, 73 x 66 1-2 inches-acrylic and watercolor on slate-001.jpg

Merrill Wagner, Outerbridge Crossing, 1986, 4 pieces, 73 x 66-1/2", acrylic and watercolor on slate © Merrill Wagner

MW1999-005_Lightstreet-1999-97 x 60 inches-rust preventive paint on steel_001.jpg

Merrill Wagner, Lightstreet, 1999, 97 x 60", rust preventive paint on steel © Merrill Wagner

MW2009-014_Untitled-2009-50 1-2 x 48 1-4 inches-rust preventive paint on steel_JS-001.jpg

Merrill Wagner, Untitled, 2009, 50-1/2 x 48-1/4", rust preventive paint on steel © Merrill Wagner

MW1995-011_Bay, 1995, 8 x 8 feet, rust preventive paint on steel.jpg

Merrill Wagner, Bay, 1995, 8 x 8', rust preventive paint on steel © Merrill Wagner

MW2003-002_Air-2003-27 x 87 1-2 inches-rust preventive paint on steel-001.jpg

Merrill Wagner, Sand Hill Road, 1988, 42 x 61-1/2", oil paint on slate © Merrill Wagner

MW2009-010.01_Intermission-2009-43 1-4 x 67 1-2 inches-rust preventive paint on steel.jpg

Merrill Wagner, Intermission, 2009, 43-1/4 x 67-1/2", rust preventive paint on steel © Merrill Wagner