Slowly say the word “decayed”. Now say it again, but faster. And quicker still. Does it sound slightly like the word “decade”? That’s because they are near homophones, words that sound the same as one another but have differing spellings and meanings. And that’s what makes Decayed a truly appropriate title for Joe Merrill‘s solo exhibition at the Death’s Vault Gallery, as it not only denotes the duality present in much of the artist’s work but also announces this showcase as celebrating a decade since he invented his Splurrt alias to create designer toy works under. In fact, one of the many highlights of the exhibition was a retrospective display of Splurrt’s earliest years.

The Splurrt Retrospective at Decayed

Merrill conceived the Splurrt identity in 2007, while he was working on the sculpt for what was to be his debut designer toy, The Executioner. The fluid form of this deformed man with an axe for a hand took the better part of a year for Merrill to complete, with MonstreHero (Sean Blay & Cliff Kirschner) then undertaking the task of casting it in resin. But due to the complexity of its ball-joint articulation, The Executioner was delayed until 2010, with the slimeball-like Splug becoming the first official Splurrt figure when it was released in 2009. With Merrill’s penchant for drip and slime textures also apparent on the anthropomorphic mushroom Bad Trip (2009) and the cartoonishly mutated humanoid Hiya (2010), around this time another direction was slowly manifesting in Merrill’s oeuvre.
The cloaked form of The Keeper (2010) feels like an intermediate piece, equally similar and dissimilar to those that came before. And one that possibly was key in Merrill solidifying his artistic direction going forward, which really began with Hiya but manifested more fully with the two-faced, cryptozoological Diggler, resin casts of which appeared in 2011. Strangely absent from the retrospective display, the Diggler takes form with a classically influenced monstrous base and gleefully expressive facial features, elements which would continue with Merrill’s first vinyl cast work, the Cadaver Kid (2011). A Frankenstein’s monster inspired creature whose stitched up and reanimated face conveys his happiness to be alive once more, this design was represented within the display through a piece from the Yummy in my Tummy Orange Frankencakke edition, which was hand-painted by gallery owner Rich Montanari Jr under his Mutant Vinyl Hardcore guise back in 2012.

Splurrt’s Decayed Exhibition Overview

While Decayed might be celebrating a decade of Merrill’s Splurrt alias, that didn’t prevent the artist from including works he issued under his more recent Secretoy branding, which tends to focus on sculptures that are more directly inspired by movies and mythology. A perfect example being the Cinema Monster, which debuted in 2014, as it is Merrill’s own interpretation of the two-headed giant Galligantua from the 1962 film Jack the Giant Killer, the artist giving it a slightly more frightening feel through his two-faced redesign. And the hand-painted edition created for this exhibition embodies Merrill’s color aesthetic, as he often opts to mimic vintage Japanese vinyl by employing as few colors as needed, a minimalistic approach to accentuating the sculpt.
Displayed alongside a vibrantly colored edition of four Cadaver Kid pieces are a variety of its enlarged Masterworks Cadaver Kid form, which was initially created in 2016 to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the figure. In revisiting this shape as a more mature artist, the upscaled size allowed Merrill to more fully explore the texturing and folds of the sculpture’s exterior. Presented in a hand-painted small edition and two one-of-a-kind originals, the versions displayed beautifully emphasized the Frankenstein’s monster heritage of the creation by relying on a variety of greens, the color most associated with the cinematic rendition of the creature, as well as sickly blues, that instantly denote a cold, dead flesh tone.
Two more Secretoy designs dominate this assortment of unique, hand-painted pieces: the Golem (2017), inspired by the rough-hewn creature of the same name from Jewish folklore, and Kronos (2016), a four-armed tribute to the kraken from 1981’s Clash of the Titans. Merrill’s golem rendition is particularly interesting, the artist having fervently sculpted the form in three days when a similar sized beast typically takes him three months, thus allowing him to capture the rawness of the mythological creature. And this desire to be true to the source continued into even the sculpting material, Merrill opting to use terra cotta in order to simulate the river mud a golem might’ve been formed out of in reality. Amidst these beasts is the Splurrt branded Evolved Diggler (2013), this one-of-a-kind rendition not only being accompanied by its severed limb accessory but also a beautifully decorated Cadaver Ball (2015) reimagined as a weapon.
Alongside a small edition of hand-painted Shinjuku Demon pieces, the 2016 sculpt by Merrill having been inspired by the Earth Demon from Demon City Shinjuku, are a selection of unpainted, glow-in-the-dark Golem figures. The cards topping these Golem piece’s bags are emblazoned with מת, or “met” in Hewbrew, which translates as “dead”. According to some versions of the legend of the golem, they were given magical life when the word אמת (Hewbrew: emeth), or truth, was inscribed into them, only able to be deactivated when the aleph (א) was erased. And this element draws attention to a hidden detail on the sculpt, the fact that it bears מת on the underside of its foot.
Alonside unique Cinema Monster and Kronos renditions are a trio of complimentary Cadaver Kid variations, each one-of-a-kind piece painted in a subtle color shift between icy blue and putrified purple. With the central, more balanced rendition being a Cadaver Kid proper, the other two use the Mecha Brain Cadaver Kid alternate head from 2012, their translucent head plates allowing for teasing visions of the all-too-human brains below.
The multi-limbed, two-faced monstrosities known as Cadaver Twins, which debuted in 2013, are presented herein in two uniquely painted rentiditions, the rotting and putrified flesh tones accentuated by the sunken sockets on one face while being complimented by the horribly adorable doll eyes on the other. And the tooth-filled horns of the Usir (2012) forms are mirrored wonderfully by the giant skeletal rendition of the beast in the middle, which uses the Bone Usir DX collaboration with Mutant Vinyl Hardcore from 2013 as the base. But it’s truly breathtaking to see how Merrill seemlessly conjoins the head from his Walking Cadaver (2014) with Montanari’s Flying Freak (2013), creating the Walking Nightmare, and then using the other halves to spawn another wholly originally beast, its singular eye strikingly detailed.
Finishing off Merrill’s contributions to the exhibit, an array of unpainted red vinyl Shinjuku Demon and Kronos pieces were affixed to the wall, their multitude intended to insure that all who ventured forth to the exhibit had the chance to leave with something.

Mutant Vinyl Hardcore × Splurrt at Decayed

And yet the show contained one last piece, a massive Masterworks Cadaver Kid form that had been hand-painted by Mutant Vinyl Hardcore’s Montanari. Coated in crisp metallic paints that mirror Merrill’s own color choices within the exhibition, it isn’t these gangrenous greens, corpse-like blues, and putrid purples that truly reflect the work of Splurrt. For that, one must gaze into the hauntingly adorned eyes of this one-of-a-kind piece, as they embody the same split nature that Merrill so frequently and eloquently explores.

Decayed was a one-day only exhibition held on June 24th, 2016 at Death’s Vault Gallery’s physical location (315 Peck St., Building 5, Studio H, New Haven, CT 06512).

For more information on Splurrt:
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