In her carefully rendered portraits, Merrily Johnstone reaches beyond the external likeness of her subjects to discern and convey their essential inner character as though captured in a timeless moment of truth, grace, and dignity.
Using Renaissance painting techniques, she applies color in multiple layers of translucent glazes over a tonal underpainting. Deliberate and time-intensive, the process allows her to build rich, luminous skin tones, and to distill the subtle details and nuances of expression that bring her subjects to life.
Her enduring fascination with portraiture is rooted in early childhood cultural experiences while living in Europe with her military family.
“Some of my first memories include visiting the palaces and art museums in France and Germany, where I was deeply affected by the portraits and figurative masterpieces of the past. As I looked up at them, the faces portrayed there seemed to speak to me in a silent and mysterious language, reaching across history and cultural boundaries. Even at such a young age, viewing these paintings placed me in the context of feeling connected to all of humanity. I still hold the accomplishments of the great historic painters as my highest ideal.”
Johnstone was inspired to paint and draw throughout her early childhood years, and later she began the serious study of painting with instruction from Jack Clifton, a noted portrait painter and author in Hampton, Virginia. She attended Virginia Commonwealth University, graduating with a BFA in painting and printmaking. She has explored many approaches to painting, from traditional to post modernist abstraction; [,] as well as commercial disciplines such as fabric design, architectural rendering, and logo design for the signage industry. From these other work experiences she has synthesized and integrated into her portraiture “a broader understanding of the principles that elevate all forms of art to a higher level, such as proportion, composition, form and value, color harmony, and a respect for enduring craftsmanship and materials”.
She is a member of the Portrait Society of America, and maintains a studio in Richmond, Virginia.