If techno music could be painted, it would be the art of Antoine Merger. Specialising in mural-sized fluorescent paintings, which require black light to be seen in their entirety, this Bali-based Frenchman is more than artist, he’s a technical wizard. His work has appeared at nightclubs, music festivals and rave parties, hotels, bars and restaurants, theme parks, exhibitions and streets throughout Europe and Asia.
Text by Rachel Love
He was immersed in the art world from a young age, and has been drawing and painting for as long as he can remember, yet Antoine Merger can recollect the exact moment he decided to become a professional artist. “A friend took me to a techno-music event where I saw a couple of banners that had been painted with luminescent colour. That was the moment!”
Antoine went out and bought some luminescent paint; he opened the box and recalls thinking, “This isn’t paint, this is pure liquid light.” The aspiring artist and his friends loved the parties, “I made one banner, and we displayed it and people loved it. In fact, I got overwhelmed, my ego was flattered and I was asked to do more.” Two decades later, he still maintains that the effects he can create with luminescent paint are probably his greatest source of inspiration.
He became a set designer, and in doing so developed an easy-to-transport ‘glow in the dark’ decor comprising handpainted backdrops held in place with ropes and cables. He travelled around the world setting scenes from Europe to Tokyo to San Francisco. “I was commissioned to create murals in nightclubs and a 130 square metre outdoor mural in Oslo.” He also worked on the exhibition at GeoCenter Møns Klint – Denmark’s famous geological museum, and at the French head office of Rossignol, the winter sports company. One of his most welcome coups was the Disneyland Paris project, under the leadership of art directors Kevin Mahoney and Martin Urbina. “A team of amazingly skilled decorators and scenic artists had been assigned to paint a mural inside an attraction, it was ‘Finding Nemo’ and it had to be luminescent. They needed help and could only source two artists in the whole of France who knew how to work with fluorescent paint. So I got hired for six weeks and ended up working there for 18 months. It was a great experience, working with all of those extremely talented people, I learnt much more from them than they learnt from me.”
Influenced by artists such as Matta, Escher, Vermeer, Moebius and Nagual, Antoine creates fantastic imagery derived from Japanese manga and science fiction movies. His neo-surrealistic art has more recently begun exploring political issues, conspiracy theories, religious iconography, and social issues such as the destruction of wildlife, addiction to computers, and genetically modified crops. “I listen to the radio – the news, I’m motivated by what’s happening in the world.” He experiments with cubes and geometry, “I love maths but maybe I was too lazy or not smart enough to study it.” His work is also propelled by his love of symmetry, perspective and depth, and – in a more conceptual way – by his interest in infinite and quantum mechanics, “I drove my mother crazy because each time I got a bike I had to take it to pieces in order to understand how it worked. I’m not happy with readymade answers because each answer brings another question.”
Antoine creates fantastic imagery derived from Japanese manga and science fiction movies.
The artist starts with a blank, white canvas and usually has no idea what he’s going to create. The roots of the process are strongly abstract, he explains, “I apply the paint and spread it with whatever tools come to hand – sponges, rags, newspaper, even my bare hands. I look at the result in the same way that one might look at the clouds and pick out strange animals, faces, or ridiculous shapes, it’s a construction process. Even if I can’t immediately see what is there, something recognisable will soon emerge or pop up, and then I follow my instinct to outline whatever ‘talks’ to me, building a painting in the same way that a child might play with Lego. It’s not about the subject but the emotion – love, anger – a snapshot of the mind. Sometimes I might sketch a photo using a projection or a grid pattern.” Using handbrushes and occasionally making finishing touches with an airbrush, he incorporates both normal and ultraviolet light into his work by mixing acrylic matte and fluorescent paints to adjust shades, brightness, colour balance and luminosity. “By playing with the luminosity, I add highlights and depth and achieve a 3D effect”, he says. “This is the hardest part, playing with the two lights, which means it takes twice as long to create a painting. I liken it to playing chess; I have to anticipate the moves.”
Antoine Merger’s exceptional fluorescent paintings are truly “brilliant” – radiant in daylight and electric in ultraviolet light. If you’re in Bali, look out for his vibrant, often amusing, and amazingly detailed artworks in places such as Naughty Nuri’s Batubelig, La Favela, and a soon-to-be-opened skull-themed shop in Petitenget, or visit his website: punkadelik.wix.com/antoine-merger