James Merry is an Iceland-based artist and embroiderer who has risen to prominence via his delicate embroidered sportswear. He’s also a close Björk collaborator, and his masks and facepieces were staples of her recent stage show. Here, he talks us through some of his formative influences.
Diary: William Morris in Iceland
William Morris has been a constant presence in my life, having grown up in a house covered with his furnishings and wallpapers. His botanical designs have seeped through my skin from an early age. I only recently found out about his love for Iceland, and bought the travel journals he kept during his 1871 visit. Reading his descriptions of places I now know in Iceland was an unexpected merging of two huge influences on my life.
Two and half years ago I moved out of Reykjavík to live in a little summerhouse by Hafravatn. Living out there has trickled into my work, and I’ve realised that I often mimic whatever is going on in the garden at that time—when mushrooms start poking up through the moss in autumn, they suddenly start appearing in my embroideries too…
Podcast: 2 Dope Queens
I’ve been listening to hundreds of podcasts while I work, and this one has become a firm favourite. It’s a comedy talk show, each episode featuring a predominately black, LGBTQ or female cast of comedians. My studio feels pretty empty without their voices talking at me through the speakers.
Gif: Forest Spirit
There is a brief moment in ‘Princess Mononoke’ that had a huge visual impact on me, that I think about almost every day—when the Forest Spirit walks across the grass and an abundance of life blossoms at his feet and then withers instantaneously. By the power of the gif, I can now have this moment on loop forever.
Dreams: Carl Jung & Marie Louise von Franz
I have a very active dream life, and put a lot of importance on them in my waking life. I am a devoted student of Carl Jung’s work, particularly the work he did with Marie Louise von Franz on alchemy. Every couple of years I rewatch her video series on dreams, which usually inspires me into a deeper subconscious/dream exploration.
Comedy: Nighty Night
British comedy was a huge part of my upbringing, and some shows permeated the way I think and the phrases I use. Jill Tyrrell in Julia Davis’s ‘Nighty Night’ is one of my favourite fictional characters ever created. She is utterly sociopathic and cruelly obsessive and I absolutely love her.
Book: Anne Carson, ‘Autobiography of Red’
This book had such a strong impact on me when I first read it—part poem, part novel, it’s a masterly blur between a retelling of Greek myth and a contemporary gay love story, with the most beautiful shape-shifting imagery and language I’ve ever read.
Museum: The Blaschka Glass Flowers
Some of my favourite objects in the world are a collection of 19th century glass flowers at the Harvard Museum of Natural History. I’m especially fond of the pieces that depict magnifications of pollen grains and stamens—they stop looking floral and become something entirely abstract and alien.