After a tropical cyclone touches land, it alters the landscape and all the edifices that inhabit its surface. In discussing his work, Meris has noted how he would see roof materials strewn across the ground in his home country of the Bahamas after a hurricane. For those who weathered the storm, these materials would be a cultural signifier for recovery, picking up and rebuilding what was destroyed. His use of roofing paper as a canvas for his drawings in his I, Used to Be (2020-2021) series connects to his creative process of reusing materials and his sense of renewal that the body goes through. His drawings are scaled to his physical size, embodying a ghostly presence and existence within the work. The gestural marks of white plaster particles, sourced from his previous series Now You See Me; Now You Don't (2020), are pressed against the black roofing paper with a paint roller, revealing his bodily presence through an abstract language of markings and gestures. Visually, Meris’ works recalls Lamia Joreige’s One Night of Sleep (2013) series, which features life-size photograms where the artist captured the movement of her body while sleeping over a period of months (itself connected to Yves Klein’s body paintings Anthropometries (1960), to which Joreige pays tribute). Yet, Meris' drawings' gestural presence and pressing action are more akin to David Hammons' Body Prints (1968-1979), where they are a notation of Black living. However, Meris’ non-figural language conjures the body into a ghostly presence that is barely visible.
For Meris, a personal experience within the New York subway system several years ago left him questioning ideas of representation and senses of unbelonging, ultimately posing the question of how he is represented and is read in space. His I, Used to Be series emerged from these poignant issues through a mix of materiality that conceals but also reveals the body as a gestural mark. Meris addresses what it means to exist, or merely to be a body in a world without preconceived notions, as well as to hold a space—to be in constant being and existence. The title of the series, based on the French translation of “I am” as “je suis” found in the conjugation of the verb être, means to be. Studying French at the University of The Bahamas, Meris found this translation and use of the verb to be a touching title to reflect how his work exists in a constant state of being—often evolving and recycling ideas from across his practice.
Artist texts by Marissa Del Toro
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Jeffrey Meris (b. Haiti, 1991) is an artist who earned an AA in Arts and Crafts from the University of The Bahamas in 2012, a BFA in Sculpture from the Tyler School of Art in 2015, and an MFA in Visual Arts from Columbia University in 2019. Meris is a Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture 2019 alum, a NXTHVN 2020 studio fellow and currently a Sharpe Walentas Studio Program A.I.R 2021–2022.