Knud Merrild: An Introduction


Knud Merrild, Abstraction 444 (c. 1935)

The Danish artist Knud Merrild (1894-1954) started off his career as an apprentice house painter, a job which helped him survive during low income periods, and more importantly provided him with the inspiration for his “flux” technique. He went to an arts and technical college before being admitted into the Royal Danish Academy, but he was there only for a short while, before he formed his own group, Anvendt Kunst (Applied Arts). He was also connected with an art magazine, Klingen, which attracted several leading avant-garde Danish artists. Like the English novelist, D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930), who befriended Merrild in the early twenties, he was a maverick.

After visiting a Cubist exhibition, Merrild took up the modernist idiom which grated with the academy. In 1921 he left for the United States and stayed first in New York, and then with an artist friend Kai Gotzsche (1886-1963) travelled in a tin Lizzie (Model T. Ford) down to Santa Fe. There he met the artist Walter Ufer (1876-1936) who introduced the Danish artists to D.H. Lawrence and his wife Frieda, both of whom Merrild wrote about in his objective account of the “prophet of love” and the Taos colony of ex-pats. Through Lawrence, whose collection The Captain’s Doll: Three Novelletes (1923) he designed an art deco style cover, Merrild gained an entry into the world of artists and writers.

Knud Merrild, Aesthetic Function in Space (1933)

His art was bought and admired by several, including the writers: D.H. Lawrence, Aldous Huxley, Henry Miller and Clifford Odets, among others. Despite his “flux” technique marketed as the precursor of abstract expressionism, and the D.H. Lawrence connection, Merrild is still relatively unknown, just one of several minor post surrealist artists who ended up in California.

He suffered a heart attack, probably as a result of house painting, and eventually returned to Denmark, where he died in 1954. His descendants have put up some of his work for sale and if the auction prices are anything to go by, there is not much interest in his work compared to the artists of the COBRA group (e.g. Asger Jorn, 1914-1973) or the Danish surrealist, Wilhelm Freddie (1909-1995).

Knud Merrild, American Beauty (The Movie Star), 1928

One contributing factor was his emigration to the US. There are no works on an important Danish art database. If one wants to view his art, then one has to go to the States. Though the flux works and experimental abstracts are important in art history terms, it is Merrild’s collage American Beauty (The Movie Star) (1928) that catches my attention.

This piece is rather anachronistic, since many artists had already executed similar works in Europe, even in the inter-war period. However, it is the satirical element combined with an eye to formal design that draws one to this composition.

I was born in London in 1956. I studied art at Herefordshire College, later went to UEA and studied literature. I worked abroad then came back to do a law degree. I have had poetry published in New Poetry, Snakeskin, Dada, Pif etc. I am a researcher in zoosemiotics based in Denmark.