The originality of Jerry Meyer’s Memory Boxes begins with the artist’s drive to create an art of personal search in which not only the imagery but also formal components (such as composition and illumination) and the fine craft of construction reside together as expressive elements. Made of the artist’s genuine emotional connections and associations to objects, and his extreme sensitivity to the poetics of lighting conditions, the Memory Boxes have an impact similar to really good theater: powerful feelings personally generated and relevant to us that are clarified and given force of impact by staging devices.
The old and the new coexist in aesthetically surprising combinations in Meyer’s Memory Boxes, just as seemingly unconnected pieces of the past and present mix and follow one another in consciousness. The unexpected! It is the unexpected that gives richness and variety to the inclusions in the Memory Boxes and makes them seem true to our own inner experiences. (In the end, artistically, it is in good part the superior physical construction of the Memory Boxes that makes their components seem so together, and that allows Meyer to range as widely as he does for inclusions in them.)
It is inevitable in human nature to transform the past with memory and fantasy but Meyer acts on the past deliberately and willfully, dramatizing his access as well as his transformations. The compositions of the Memory Boxes, which are almost always planar in their organization, are like layers of memory. In some of the Memory Boxes ("Why Not Know Florida", "Get in the Car, We’re Going to Visit a Friend of Mine", "The Dream Work", "The Return of the Repressed") Meyer positions family photos, or other objects of autobiographical intensity, behind old grates. This evocative strategy locates the objects in the past, and simultaneously reveals them (the grate as window or peephole) and transforms them (the grate as barrier). This pictorial and psychical situation is resolved (brought into the present) through combination with hard, clean-edged geometrical forms and "new" materials, and with exquisitely controlled colored light. We see the past in the theatrically clarifying light of the present, yet, paradoxically, the light often, like the jukebox-like form of "Why Not Know Florida", also evokes the past once again. (Meyer has said that his is an "art of nostalgia".)
In his most recent works Meyer has brought special focus to themes of love and aging. "Our Love is Different Dear" is an archaeological reconstruction of a love in a generation past, whose freshness and intensity is retrieved for the present. In "The Dementia Line" Meyer’s witty, personal transformations of the found text speak a giddy humor which, as in several other works, surprises as it emerges from semi-hidden locations in the fine print, where also are located inexhaustibly rich puns and associations.
The distinctive power of Meyer’s Memory Boxes is, of course, multi-determined. Control of materials and the artist’s resolution to synthesize them, and panoramic access to the contents of personal imagination play their part. But also, like all fine work, the Memory Boxes have the force of uninhibited decision making with a total absence of undercutting self-doubt in the creative process. No wonder they are so strong.
John Baker, Ph.D.
Professor of Art History
Massachusetts College of Art