BLOODLINE: The Art of John Mellencamp & Speck Mellencamp At The Butler Institute of Art May 7 - July 2nd

This unique exhibition consists of nineteen paintings—10 by John Mellencamp and 9 by his son, Speck Mellencamp. Singer-songwriter and accomplished visual artist John Mellencamp (who’s artwork Monstrosity is part of the Butler’s permanent collection on view in the Brown/Dennison Gallery) along with his son Speck have created a fascinating, two-person exhibition which celebrates figurative expressionism at a very high level. 

Executive Director, Louis A. Zona says, “what is clear about the art of John Mellencamp is that his works extends the rich tradition of American expressionistic art that harks back to the painterly canvases of Robert Henri (1865-1929) and the so-called early Modernists that flourished in the early part of the twentieth century.

John Mellencamp’s paintings are also closely aligned with Neo-Expressionistic canvases of Puerto Rico-born painter, Raphael Ferrer (b. 1933).

The art of John Mellencamp stretches the American brand of expressionism. He is part of a continuum born in the studio of the Ashcan School, winding its way through the action paintings of the New York School and ultimately to the adventurous canvases of the Neo-Expressionists. It is in the work specifically of the Neo-Expressionists that we find a parallel to the offerings of Mellencamp. Free in spirit, his work punches out at us. His is not a work that dabbles along the edges; it is every bit as strong-willed as the best of the American expressionists no matter the period with which we might make a comparison.

John Mellencamp’s coffee table art book, John Mellencamp: American Paintings and Assemblages, was released this past November with Rizzoli New York. The book features 170 original works, essays from David L. Shirley and Bob Guccione Jr., and a forward written by Dr. Louis A. Zona. It features self-portraits made over the years as well as portraits of other well-known subjects—including Marlon Brando, Johnny Cash, and Meg Ryan—and a variety of everyday people.

The Butler is pleased and honored to present Speck’s work alongside John’s at this special time in the Butler’s history.                                                                           

Speck Mellencamp was born in 1995. As a young boy, he watched his father painting and was inspired. He attended the Rhode Island School of Design and studied in Greece. Speck also worked at the Butler several years ago. He is now the executive director of the Southern Indiana Center for the Arts.

He and his dad have collaborated on a few paintings. In 2019 Speck exhibited his paintings at the Southern Indiana Center for the Arts along with John and his grandmother Marilyn. Marilyn passed away in 2012.

Louis Zona say “Speck Mellencamp’s paintings pay tribute to the intensity of German Expressionist figurative works. The grouping of figures appears to step out of the darkness, a chiaroscuro effect that is at once heavily dramatic and sculptural. The black serves to accentuate all that grows from it--figures, clothing, and other elements that fill the rectangle. One is easily reminded of the strongly contrasting light and dark of Caravaggio’s religious themes and how they are magnified by figures emerging from the darkness which envelops them.

Speck’s colors, muted but beautiful, add richness to his work, with impressionistic-like highlights contributing much to the overall effectiveness of the paintings. Speck Mellencamp understands those formal fealties which Cézanne worked toward all his life. Speck is definitely on a lighted trail.”

The Butler Institute of American Art, founded in 1919 is an accredited, non-profit art museum that provides art classes, tours, events and world-class exhibitions. Admittance is free to the public. For further information contact:       


The Butler Institute of American Art   524 Wick Avenue  Youngstown, OH 44502    330-743-1107