The creative spirit often finds multiple expressions and such is the case with John Mellencamp. Known primarily for his music, Mellencamp, is a legendary musician and long-time activist. He is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and recipient of The Woody Guthrie Award.
He is also an accomplished painter who has seriously pursued painting for more than 35 years. He has had solo exhibitions at the Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio; the Tennessee State Museum, Nashville, the Museum of Art-Deland, Florida and the Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, Georgia.
Raised in Indiana and influenced by his mother who painted in the family home throughout his childhood, Mellencamp’s urge to paint started at ten years of age when he began experimenting with oils. Later, he came to New York with the intention of studying painting if his music-career aspirations didn’t work out. He had his first formal training at the Art Students League, with portraitist David Leffel, where he discovered German art and the work of Twentieth – Century Modernists such as Walt Kuhn and Chaim Soutine.
Though his musical career flourished, Mellencamp also continued painting and began to paint earnestly in the 1980s as a means of further artistic exploration. He evolved a style of portraiture influenced by the paintings of the German Expressionists, particularly Max Beckmann and Otto Dix.
The German Expressionism of the early twentieth century, with its anguish over human brutality and corruption, spoke to Mellencamp’s deep feelings about social justice. His kinship with the Expressionist artists, both by inheritance-he is the descendant of German immigrants-and attitude, served as the foundation for the development of Mellencamp’s own oeuvre. But though that foundation is German, the evolved result is decidedly American, with the brash and snappy visual rhythms of our streets, our lives, our politics, angers and passions.
Mellencamp’s imagery thus takes its inspiration from the same sources as his music: the struggles of the working man and woman, oppressive authority and social struggle. And like his music, the paintings are carefully composed through the structural requirements of harmony, rhythm and order.
The Paintings of John Mellencamp. The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngston, Ohio, 2013 Mellencamp: Paintings and Reflections. Harper Perennial, New York, 1998.