I first saw Daniel Merriam's art work at the tiny Avalon
Gallery in Carmel,
California, while on a mini-vacation with my sister. There were just a few giclees
on display, but I was immediately enthralled with his work, which was filled
with humor, wit, and fantasy -- birds, bubbles, and butterflies. My
Art of Daniel Merriam: The Impetus of Dreams,
in our hotel room together, marveling over his art, as I read his words aloud.
When I got home, I looked up Mr. Merriam's name in Google,
hoping to find out more about him and see more of his art work close-up. I discovered
by the Louis
Aronow Gallery in San Francisco. So the next time I went to the
I stopped by. I was a bit disappointed that there were only a few pieces on display,
but there was one original piece that I had seen in the book. It was amazing
how much more impressive the original painting was. It was huge, and it appeared
that he had applied mica to add a pearlescent shimmer to parts of the canvas.
I was able to look at the intricacies in the designs that had been virtually
invisible in the prints within his book. Looking at his work took
I talked to the manager of the gallery for a minute or two. I asked to be added
to his mailing list, all the while feeling a little embarrassed because I knew
I would never be able to afford one of Mr. Merriam's paintings. I did, however,
learn that Mr. Merriam was going to have a show in the
November, so I was excited at the prospect of being able to see more of his work.
Four months later I received an art card for the opening. There was even going
to be an artist’s reception. It was the same week as my birthday, so my
husband and I planned to go together with our son, John, and have dinner at our
favorite Greek restaurant afterwards.
The evening of the reception, I was a nervous wreck. I didn’t know what
to wear. I wanted to look young, thin, hip, and attractive immediately. I wanted
to look like someone who could buy Daniel Merriam’s art if I wanted to.
I was a hopeless case. I wanted new clothes and a new hair do and perfect make-up.
I wished to be anything but my frumpy, middle-aged self. But it was hopeless.
As we hurried out the door, I grabbed his book and a Sharpie, hoping that the
artist would be there and that he might sign my copy of his book.
The gallery is smallish and narrow, although there are three levels. That evening
it was packed with people. They had a table with
of french bread and cheese and grapes. And there was wine being served. I was
too excited to eat and too nervous to drink. As my hungry son and husband made
the food, I started at the wall nearest the entrance and methodically worked
the gallery walls, lingering over each incredible painting.
For those of you unfamiliar with his work, Daniel Merriam is a watercolor artist
who paints surreal, fantasy images of fairies and gargoyles, hybrid creatures
straight from his imagination: butterflies that morph into bees, birds that swim
through the air like fish. The colors are luminescent; every piece is a feast
for the eyes. Intricate Victorian-style buildings grow out of stone, or meld
into the trees, and
in the unlikeliest of places. Colors
range from bright
and bold fantasmagorical carnival colors in one painting, to
muted and fragile tones in the next. I tried to soak everything in as I
in front of each canvas. I probably annoyed some people, as I
inches away from each painting, examining everything,
but I didn't care. I felt that if I didn't
get close enough, I might miss something really important. As it was, I knew
I'd never see enough and never see it all.
I saw the gallery manager at one point, and timidly asked him, "Is the
"Why, yes he is." He craned his neck, scanning the gallery. "He
was in the back just a few minutes ago. He's wearing a maroon
jacket . . . and he's the best looking man here," he said.
"Okay . . . well, I'll go see if I can find him," I replied breathlessly.
I could hardly believe that there was a possibility that I was going to meet
I started moving
towards the back of the gallery, trying to inconspicuously find him. My hands
felt clammy. My stomach was in knots. I was half-dreading the thought of actually
meeting him. I tried to fluff my hair, pinch my cheeks, bite my lip for color.
think to myself. He probably has some beautiful, young, stylish woman on his
with a wealthy patron of his art.
Why would he want to talk to me anyhow?
But it was too late to retreat, for there he was right in front of me, in that
lovely maroon jacket, arms at his side, looking only slightly nervous, as though
would prefer to be surrounded by paints and canvas rather than schmoozing with
was love at first sight, even though I had already fallen in love with him before
saw him. Because how could I not be immediately attracted to the person
draw dreams I could only imagine? And there is was, with his back against the
wall, looking impossibly handsome.
If he had been a hunched over little man with
scraggly long gray hair and a wart on his nose and stained fingernails, maybe
I could have at least looked at him with a calm air of maturity. As it was, I
must have sounded like a thirteen year old at an Usher concert, all giggles and
blushes (okay, I didn't really giggle, but I swear I was on the verge.)
"Daniel Merriam?" I asked tentatively.
"Hello," he said.
"Uh . . . hi," I continued, stammering. "I just wanted to
tell you know how much I love your art. It's so amazing."
"Why, thank you," he said, smiling just enough to verify that he
did have perfect teeth.
It was then that I realized that I didn't know what to say next. I had
a million questions, but no questions at all. I just wanted to talk to him--
about what it was like to be an artist, about how he came up with all his amazing
want to ask him anything stupid, and in so doing appear stupid myself.
"Uhhh...so, how long does it take you to do one of your paintings?" I
He smiled. "People ask me that a lot," he replied. He looked straight into my
eyes as he talked to me, making me feel, all at once, more relaxed and more nervous
at the same time.
artist once told me to say that it takes a lifetime," he continued, "but really,
on the painting. Sometimes a week, sometimes two."
I asked him if he ever ran out of ideas, and he said something to me that was
so amazing, something I'd
never heard anybody say before. He said, "No. I wake up very early every morning
excited to see what the day will bring. Excited to work. I feel so lucky to be
able to do
this every single day. There's always something new."
Maybe those weren't his exact words. I didn't write them down or hold up a tape
recorder, but they seemed heartfelt and personal, as thought he had never
said them to anyone else ever before.
I asked him about the text that he added to the some of the paintings-- tiny,
barely legible, beautiful script that seems to seep out of the pores of the paper.
"It's like keeping a journal. I write what I'm thinking as I'm painting.
Instead of putting my thoughts in a journal, I put them
in the painting."
"Can I come live with you in Maui?" I asked, dreamily.
Okay, so I didn't really
say this, but I was thinking it.
I asked him to sign my book, which he graciously did. "To Karen: Best of dreams
to you. Daniel B. Merriam."
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see my son raising his eyebrows dramatically,
giving me the "Let's goooo, mom,"
signal. And my sweet husband, waiting patiently with his jacket draped over his
arms. I wondered what
he thought of my feeble attempts at flirting.
"Well, I have to go now," I said. I reached out my hand to shake his. "Thanks so much for talking
with me. I hope we meet again sometime."
"Thanks for coming," he said. "Good-bye."
Did his hand hold mine just a beat longer than expected? Did his beautiful eyes
speak to me of sun-drenched outings, and mid-afternoons drinking Pacificos by
the beach at Maui?
Nahhh. But I can dream, too, of getting to know the heart and soul
of an artist whose work I admire so much.
As I clutched his book to my chest and floated towards my husband, my son asked,"So
how was it
talking to your 'hero'?" He emphasizing the word "hero" with air quotes and sarcasm,
in that way that can
immediately bring a middle-aged mom back down to earth.
I just laughed, "It was great, honey. It was just
Impetus of Dreams
by Daniel Merriam