“When I was a child, my mother said to me, ‘If you become a soldier, you’ll be a general. If you become a monk, you’ll end up as the Pope.’ Instead I became a painter and wound up as Picasso.” – Pablo Picasso
Karin Mervis, who emigrated from South Africa in 1990, has influenced thousands of children in expressing themselves in art forms and therapy. Mervis, a teaching visual artist at the Atlanta High Museum of Art and volunteer at the Shepherd Center, is best known for group works at Jewish day schools.
In her lilting South African accent, Mervis has the “Mary Poppins touch” to engage children in group art projects, which are ultimately displayed at The Davis Academy, the Atlanta Jewish Academy and The Epstein School. She has implemented the “Curating Your Family Story” project at Congregation Shearith Israel, where children chose a Judaic historic symbol from home to explore its history and culminate in an individual art treasure. “These art connections are very emotional and personal,” Mervis said.
Her own artistic style is sumptuous, yet punchy, stylized and unexpected.
Then there is her handsome son, Daniel, 30, a burgeoning technical, multifaceted artist bursting on the hip Atlanta scene. Hip, but not too avant garde, to produce touching sketches of a rabbi holding his son’s hand, walking to Yeshiva.
“When I do a 4-foot-by-4-foot micro-pen cutout of Prime Minister Netanyahu, you can bet I have to stay very focused,” Daniel said. Karin weighed in, “Daniel’s art is impossible for anyone to copy free hand. I doubt that he, himself, could replicate his portraits – they are so magnificent.”
Marcia: Did you have formal art training?
Daniel: I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts from SCAD [Savannah College of Art and Design]. I was classically trained in art elements from color theory to more macro principles like balance. I started out rooted in abstract expressionism and through training, I applied that expression to more concrete subject matter.
Karin: I studied art in Johannesburg and then at Columbus (Ohio) College of Art & Design. I was an art director at Grey advertising; and similarly, Daniel, until recently, worked for Ogilvy advertising.
Marcia: You’re an art teacher, how did you influence Daniel as a child?
Karin: Our home has always been one big art room! Daniel was creative at a very young age. He either volunteered or worked for me at various art camps. Daniel has an innate need to draw in a certain style that is 100 percent his own language. My art – and that of many others – is original but can easily be copied. Not true of his work.
Marcia: Who are your favorite artists?
Karin: I collect South African items like the pottery of Roelna Bashew, an indigenous sculptor. Currently I’m “wearing” my favorite art – a scarf by students of Lalela, a South African arts program for youth at risk.
I admire a Jewish artist, Andy Saftel, under whom I studied in Tennessee and created this “warrior” diptych. Even my warriors bloom with flowers.
Marcia: How would you contrast your styles?
Daniel: I don’t often paint or use color. Mom and I are polar opposites. I am doing these emotional micro-pen stenciled portraits (Einstein, Netanyahu, Bob Marley), 40 inches by 40 inches. These take 80 to 100 hours each.
The composition in-and-of-itself is one giant principle of balance. The stenciled background balances out the penmanship of the face. I’ve applied my expression to all subject matter from animals, faces to landscapes. Also, I constantly push for new mediums, working with technology such as laser cutters and steel, using plasma torches.
Beyond fine art, I also dabble in fun apparel. These ever-present traditional “ATL” hats in all white Helvetica font are about as depressive as gets when it comes to design; but my ATL designs were featured at A3C Festival, a weeklong conference with performances throughout Atlanta.
Karin: I start by doodling in my journal and literally use a projector to devolve into large acrylic paintings like these huge floral triptychs. I like bright neon, whimsical colors and usually incorporate persimmon, purple and burgundy.
Marcia: What’s the most unusual work you have done?
Karin: When my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I did a painting with memories for my own 50th birthday (see the huge 50 in the background). I projected her handwriting onto the canvas, with a quote I found written in her diary: “May the best days of your past, be the worst days of your future.”
Daniel: Right now, the most unusual is hand-cut metal. There are very few plasma torch artists out there.
Marcia: Describe your Judaic works.
Karin: My square wood, gold-leaf pieces are “Blessing for Good Health” and “The Wonders of Nature” in Hebrew and English.
In addition, my community pieces were completed at Camp Barney, AMIT, Amy’s Holiday Party, Young Israel, The Temple, Beth Tefillah preschool, and the Breman Museum.
Daniel: I have been creating custom ketubahs for young lovers out there. It’s been an interesting process because I collaborate with calligraphers to get a professional finalized ketubah. Often, calligraphers are in different states, so there is a lot of back and forth.
My black and white ink original sketches of Jewish scenes – My favorite is the Orthodox man walking his son to school. “L’dor v’dor” [from generation to generation] emphasizes the importance of teaching and education.
Marcia: What’s the greatest collaboration you two have done?
Karin: We are working on a huge 30-foot wall in The Galloway School tracing the life cycle of the monarch butterfly. We worked with dozens of students from pre-K to eighth grade.
Daniel: The butterfly mural correlated with the class curricula and allowed for every student to paint their own version of a butterfly.