By Shellie Smitley - Arts & Life
The artwork of John Mellencamp is on exhibit at the Morris Museum of Art through April 12.
Kevin Grogan, director and curator of the museum, said that although a German Expressionist influence is evident in Mellencamp’s work, the artwork can’t be categorized as one specific style. He also said the “American Dreams” exhibition in Augusta is the last scheduled museum showing of the artwork.
“If people don’t see it here,” Grogan said. “They won’t see it, at least not for a while.”
Prior to coming to Augusta, the paintings were shown at the Museum of Art-DeLand, Florida. Lisa Habermehl, director of marketing, said that the exhibition of Mellencamp’s oil and mixed media paintings received a favorable response.
“It was an exceptional exhibition that drew museum goers or visitors from not just across the state but from across the U.S.,” Habermehl said. “It really attracted, not just kids and diehard fans, but people who appreciate his art and his style. He is a very busy man with so many things: theatre, concert tour (and) everything. This is a very unique opportunity for anyone to see his artwork.”
Pam Coffman, education curator at DeLand, said she believes that the Mellencamp exhibit has an education value for all ages.
“The thing about Mellencamp’s work that is so great for education is that his paintings all have stories in them, and they are layered stories and the characters are all prominent in his paintings,” Coffman said. “I think his work really lends itself to that storytelling process. Most of the people really liked it. The people that might have not liked it might have said: ‘Well, I don’t think I want that hanging in my house.’ But I think for us the thing that was so cool about Mellencamp was the people really engaged in the art work, and that is important, at least from an educator’s point of view.”
Grogan said that Mellencamp’s artwork is challenging and some of it is dark and grim.
“Obviously, John Mellencamp is a man who has very deep feelings about a lot of social issues and this, in addition to his lyrics, is the way that he characterizes those feelings.” Grogan said. “I would like to think that he has a good sense of humor, but you would never guess that from looking at the paintings.”
Coffman said that Mellencamp met the staff prior to the opening of the show and held a press conference. An interview with the musician discussing his artwork can be found at www.moartdeland.org.
“He was just a really regular guy, very laidback,” Coffman said. “I thought he was quite interesting. He didn’t want to talk a lot about his art. I mean he felt like it is here; it’s out there, you know. You respond to it how you wish. He was really congenial and just a really friendly, kind of laidback guy and when he was here, DeLand is a small little town, and so he was out on the street and he would go to places to get coffee and so he met a lot of the local people, and he was quite the buzz.”
Grogan said Mellencamp was originally scheduled to appear at the Augusta Museum, but those plans have since been cancelled.
Michelle Schulte, curator of education at the Morris Museum, said Michael Schwartz, a professor at Georgia Regents University, will be the featured speaker at a luncheon later this month.
“In terms of education programs around the John Mellencamp show, the biggest one was the opening, which is already past, but coming up on Friday Feb. 20, we have an artist’s lunch featuring Dr. Michael Schwartz who is at GRU in the art department,” Schulte said. “He is the art history professor, and he’s going to present a lecture (entitled) ‘Expressionism, Neo- expressionism in the Art of John Mellencamp.’ It is a paid program so members are $10 and nonmembers are $14 because it includes a catered lunch.”
Mellencamp will be performing in a concert at the James Brown Arena in Augusta on June 20as part of his Plain Spoken tour, according to the venue’s website.