Artist pays tribute to the past while looking to the future in new exhibit

CHAMBERSBURG – On Friday, Aug. 2, artist Don Mertz launched his debut solo exhibit “Celebration of Life” at The Garage Studios (102 S. Main St.).

The 30-plus paintings in the exhibit will be on display through the month of August.

For Mertz, the exhibit is both a tribute to his late father and a way to connect to the next generation: his fiancé’s ten grandchildren.

“We used to throw paint all the time,” said Mertz of his father, an accomplished artist who pursued art after retiring from the business world. “I loved doing it. I was never as good as him, but I loved doing it.”

Over the years, he and his father moved apart geographically, and Mertz began to paint less frequently.

When his father passed, he put the paint down completely.

And then, about a year later, the color unexpectedly returned:

“My fiancé, who I knew from 35 years ago came back into my life, and she has ten grandkids. Two of her grandkids came down, and it’s like, ‘What am I going to do with two young kids?’ So we decided to do some painting.”

He added: “I wanted to get back into it – not the exact same thing my dad and I used to do, something a little bit different, and started playing with colors.”

Instead of “throwing paint” in the style of Jackson Pollock as he had done with his father, Mertz used a pour style to create the pieces in the current exhibit – a technique that is relatively simple to learn but notoriously difficult to master.

“I just loved it,” said Mertz, “because you can see how the color flows and how the painting ends up developing as you’re tilting the canvas.”

“[Unpredictability]’s the problem when you start to pour,” explained Mertz. “Different colors don’t mix well and then you end up with a mess…To get the bright colors is sometimes challenging.”

Mertz’s paintings can include mixtures of anywhere between three and sixteen different colors, and from the initial selection of the colors and techniques (for one of the pieces in the exhibit he used a strainer) through cleaning and sealing the canvas (especially for the resin ones), the entire process usually requires several hours.

“The paintings are meant to celebrate life through colors flowing freely on the canvas.”

(from the artist statement)

The exhibit came about when artist Barbara Randall (who curated and was also featured in the Garage’s “Unspeakable” exhibit last February and is currently preparing work for a November show) suggested that Mertz should talk to Jennifer Davis, co-owner of the Garage, about exhibiting there.

Davis, who is usually skeptical of poured paintings in general, was immediately receptive to Mertz’s work.

“I think his colors are spectacular,” said Davis. “The pouring arts can sometimes look a little muddy, but the color contrast he has is amazing.”

Mertz had considered other galleries for his exhibit, but as soon as he visited the Garage and spoke to Davis, he knew it would be a good fit.

“If I’m going to start to exhibit, this is where I’m going to show my work,” said Mertz of the Garage.

But this is only the first step in Mertz’s homeward odyssey. Following the success of “Celebration of Life,” he hopes to bring it full-circle back to North Carolina – where his father exhibited.

He added: “I wanted to do a show here first, and then my goal is to go back and do a show where his last gallery was, down in North Carolina.”

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