As an art student at the University of Memphis, Kurt Meer says he was profoundly affected by the theories of Whistler. “I have adopted Whistler’s comparison of painting to music,” he says. “Color is like a keyboard where there is a root key or color harmony within which there are a variety of chords created by playing opposites against one another, such as warm and cool, saturated and unsaturated. All of these build to a tension that is resolved by returning to the root harmony.”
Whistler found one means of expressing his theories in a series of works depicting the River Thames at night. For Meer, the Mississippi River that flows through his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, is the inspiration. “For several years I worked in downtown Memphis and watched the changing face of the river throughout the seasons, in times of drought and flooding, and under varied lighting conditions, including sunrise and sunset. I came to know its subtleties, and while the rivers in my paintings are imaginary abstractions of water, sky and vegetation shapes, they undoubtedly go back to my memory of the Mississippi and its fast-moving energy.”
Unlike the vigor of the Mississippi, Meer says his goal is to convey tranquility and to create images that become “points of meditation … like seeing water in the early morning when it is still and glasslike.” In many ways his archetypal bodies of water are both timeless as well as indicators of time, affirming what Heraclitus stated, “You cannot step twice into the same river, for other waters are continually flowing in.”
The harmony he achieves through color echoes in Meer’s compositions. “I use ancient principles of architecture and geometry, both Western and Eastern, in sizing my panels and composing within that space,” he says.
Meer has just a passing memory of having studied the theories of Carl Jung, but one can readily imagine in the landscapes Jung’s notion that water symbolizes the unconscious and a revelation of the shadow side. As the philosopher noted in The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, “The dreamer, thirsting for the shining heights, has first to descend into the dark depths,” where there is “no inside and no outside, no above or below, no here or there…. It is the world of water where all life floats in suspension: where the realm of the sympathetic system, the soul of everything living begins; where I am indivisibly this and that: where I experience the other in myself and the other-than-myself experiences me.”