Mansfield News Journal:John Mellencamp Exhibition, 'Paintings & Assemblages,' Opens Sunday at Mansfield Art Center

Mansfield News Journal By Mark Caudill

John Mellencamp exhibition, 'Paintings & Assemblages,' opens Sunday at Mansfield Art Center
Rock star is a prolific and provocative painter
Mansfield Art Center's Jennifer Beavis, marketing and development director and George Whitten, executive director, are excited about the John Mellencamp art exhibit opening Sunday.
John Mellencamp has never been afraid to speak his mind.
A member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Mellencamp has been a champion of many causes, including farmers, small-town America and gun control.
His paintings are as provocative as his political statements.
The Mansfield Art Center scored a major coup to be able to present Mellencamp's work in a mixed-media exhibition called "Paintings & Assemblages." The show will open Sunday and continue through Aug. 7 at 700 Marion Ave.
More than 55 of Mellencamp's pieces will be on display, including some that have never been seen before.
"He added some new works that he just completed," said Jennifer Beavis, marketing and development director for the art center.
George Whitten, executive director, added, "That's testimony to how excited he is about the show."
One of Mellencamp's most recent pieces is a self-portrait of him smoking a cigarette. He finished the painting less than a week before his work was shipped to Mansfield.
Mellencamp gave interview about gun control last week
Just last week, Mellencamp gave an interview on MSNBC to talk about gun control in the wake of the latest school shooting in Udalve, Texas.
Pulling no punches, Mellencamp said people didn't get involved in the Vietnam War until Walter Cronkite showed images of dead teenagers.
"I think we need to show the carnage of these kids dying," Mellencamp said of school shootings. "Let them show what a machine gun can do to a kid's head."
One of Mellencamp's more politcal statements can be seen in this work addressing gun control and the 2nd Amendment.
In one of his paintings, called "Gun Control," Mellencamp wrote the words, "So this is gun control" above a painting of a young boy with a hole in his chest. Below are the words "the 2nd Amendment in action."
"None of these images are about making us comfortable," Beavis said. "They're about getting his point across."
Another provocative piece, called "Strange Fruit II," references the Billie Holiday song that protested the lynching of Black Americans, comparing them to the fruit hanging from trees.
"Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees"
Mellencamp updated the work in 2020 with a painting, adding a painting in the bottom left-hand corner of George Floyd, who died when a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for several minutes.
Mellencamp, 70, is best known for a string of big hits in the 1980s including "Hurts So Good," "Jack & Diane" and "Pink Houses." The Indiana rocker has sold more than 60 million albums worldwide.
He released his latest album, "Strictly a One-Eyed Jack," last January, featuring Bruce Springsteen on the song "A Life Full of Rain."
Rock and Roll Hall of Famer is also prolific painter
In addition to rock and roll stardom, Mellencamp is an accomplished painter, collector and activist. "Paintings & Assemblages" documents America's heart and soul, exposing unsettling, but beautiful truths with an attitude of defiance and narrative sensibility.
One of Mellencamp's self portraits.
As his musical career flourished, Mellencamp began to paint earnestly in the 1980s. His affinity for portraiture, influenced by the works of Otto Dix and Max Beckmann, shares a kinship with German Expressionism of the early 20th century.
His large-scale oil portraits and mixed-media pieces examine subjects that speak to the viewer with a voice as powerful as his songs.
In 2012, the New York Times called Mellencamp "a natural storyteller" for his artwork.
"John's work is soulful," Whitten said. "He's not chasing a dream. He's not painting for a market. This is a beautiful arrangement.
"He paints what is on his mind. I think it's a very powerful show."
Jerry Francl carefully places John Mellencamp's art on the wall of the Mansfield Art Center.
Mellencamp's exhibition is heavy on portraits, including one of his former longtime girlfriend, actress Meg Ryan.
"The eyes of people in his portraits draw them to you," Whitten said. "Regardless of where you stand in the room, every one of these paintings draws your attention."
Whitten admires Mellencamp for his prolific amount of work.
"I don't see how he can separate his music from his painting," he said. "How do you keep it all straight?"
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Singer-songwriter not expected to attend
Whitten could ask Mellencamp if he attends this weekend's festivities, though he is not expected.
"We have invited him to Mansfield for a private showing if he wants," the executive director said.
Whitten and Tim Gorka worked with Mellencamp's team for nearly a year to schedule the exhibition .
Hoffman Entertainment, which manages Mellencamp, has been through Mansfield while going back and forth between New York City and Indiana, the singer's birthplace.
The art center will host an opening preview for "Paintings & Assemblages" from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Saturday. Limited tickets are available for $50. 
Those attending need to RSVP by calling the art center at 419-756-1700.
A public reception will be held from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday.  Admission for the exhibition will be $5. Members get in free. 
"I think it's going to be busy," Beavis said. "I think it's going to be very busy. We're thankful that he loved this space, and he wanted to show his work here."
The first-floor gallery will feature an exhibition of clay sculptures from the late George Roby, documenting his wife's struggle with Alzheimer's disease, along with paintings from Mindy Tousley.