The Paintings Of John Mellencamp On View At The Butler Institute Of American Art

"Dog Boy" - 2007, oil on canvas, 48 x 48 inches
Photo by Jerry Atnip

Painter, legendary musician and longtime

Fact Sheet:
Painter, legendary musician and longtime activist, John Mellencamp’s interest in paint- ing began in early life, but was superseded in the 1980s by a skyrocketing musical career. However, throughout his life, Mellencamp has continued to seriously explore painting as a means of self-expression.

The exhibition The Paintings of John Mellen- camp, which opens at the Butler Institute of American Art on November 3, 2013 will feature some 40 oil paintings (some never before seen by the public), and is the artist’s first art mu- seum exhibition. The Tennessee State Mu- seum in Nashville, presented Mellencamp’s first major museum exhibition last year.

According to Dr. Louis A. Zona, Director and Curator of the Butler, “In choosing these works, mostly portraits, I am interested in the dialogue between Mellencamp’s work and the Butler’s more traditional collection of 19th- and 20th- century American art by masters including John Singer Sargent, Winslow Homer, and Raphael Soyer. John’s work is beautifully executed and speaks of themes that are universal. He has very strong opinions, be they sociological or political, which are right up front in these works. They’re incredibly fascinating studies”.

The exhibition will be on view from Novem- ber 3, 2013, to January 12, 2014 at the Butler Institute of American Art’s satellite museum, the Butler Trumbull County branch, at 9350 East Market Street in Howland Township, Ohio (44484). The facility, founded in 1996, was designed by regional architect Thomas Schroth, and built specifically as a gallery for the display of contemporary works of art. The Butler’s branch museum and its activities are funded in part by Foundation Medici of Ohio. Previous exhibitions have included solo shows by Robert Rauschenberg, William Baziotes, Kenneth Noland and Al Held, among many others.

The Butler’s Trumbull facility is open Wednesday through Sunday, 11 am to 4 pm. Admission and parking are free.

The Paintings of John Mellencamp will travel to the Museum of Art-DeLand, Florida, where it will be on view from October 16, 2014 through January 4, 2015. Plans are being finalized for the exhibition to travel to additional museums.

A full -color catalogue with an essay by Hilarie M. Sheets, a contributing editor to ARTnews who writes regularly for The New York Times, will accompany the exhibition. In her essay, Sheets, writes,” Mellencamp’s “discovery of early 20th-century modernists including Chaim Soutine, Walt Kuhn, and particularly the German Expressionists Otto Dix and Max Beckmann pointed the way toward a vis- ceral, pared down approach to portraiture”.

According to Mellencamp, “German painting remains the basic foundation for what I do same as folk music is the foundation of my songs. Discovering Beckmann to me was like discovering Woody Guthrie or Bob Dylan.”

"John 51" - oil on canvas 20 x 16 inches.
Photo by Jerry Atnip

John Mellencamp, the legendary musician and long-time activist, has been a Grammy® winner, co-founder of Farm Aid (with Willie Nelson and Neil Young) and the creator of a catalog of songs that launched the Americana movement in roots-oriented music. In parallel to his 35 year- long music career, Mellencamp has become an accomplished painter with his art work the focus of a number of exhibitions.

Mellencamp grew up in Seymour Indiana, the descendant of German immigrants. His late mother loved to paint landscapes and flowers and her son fell in love with both art and music at an early age. Mellencamp came to New York with the intention of studying painting if his music-career
aspirations didn’t pan out. He joined the Art Students League and had his first formal training with portrait painter, David Leffel who taught him the technique of painting dark to light in the manner of Rembrandt and other old masters. He later honed his skills by studying with Jan Royce from the Herron School of Art and Design in Indianapolis.

In addition to the Tennessee State Museum and Butler Institute of American Art exhibitions, Mellencamp was recently a part of a group show at the Gerald Peters Gallery in Santa Fe. His work has also been exhibited at Herron School of Art and Design, a division of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. He was part of a two-man show with jazz legend Miles Davis at The Triangle Gallery in Los Angeles. Harper Collins published Paintings and Reflections, an overview of Mellencamp’s earlier work in 1998.

On the music side of his career, Mellencamp has released 27 albums, received Billboard’s Century Award, ASCAP Foundation’s Champion Award, The Woody Guthrie Award, the Americana Music Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008. Last year, Mellencamp was awarded the prestigious John Steinbeck Award
from the Center for Steinbeck Studies at San Jose State University. Thomas Steinbeck, noted author and son of John Steinbeck, said, “He (Mellencamp) has spent his life serving as a voice for the people” and “he has maintained the true spirit of John Steinbeck’s compassion for the worker”.

Mellencamp has a long history of musical exploration and innovation. One of his current projects is Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, a southern gothic musical, in which he collaborated with best- selling author Stephen King. The show had its world premiere last year at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta. Starting on October 10 there will be a month-long tour of the mid-west and the south. An all-star recording of the songs and script was released this past year with the participation of Elvis Costello, Rosanne Cash, Sheryl Crow, Neko Case, Taj Mahal, Ryan Bingham, Kris Kristofferson, Matthew McConaughey, Samantha Mathis and Meg Ryan.
Mellencamp still resides in his home state of Indiana.