Marlborough is pleased to present Keith Mayerson’s second solo exhibition with the gallery entitled My American Dream: Mystery Train (in loving memory of Daniel Tinker Knapp). Comprised of new works (one for each of the train coaches—and stanzas—in the eponymous Elvis Presley song), Mayerson takes us on a romantic and elegaic roadtrip across America. While this includes the threatened grandeur of our National Parks and ecology, Mayerson also lovingly scrutinizes more prosaic locales. These are the places that have formed our economic and cultural backbone, and that have helped to create the climate in which we now live. A view of the Bethlehem Steel Mill in Pennsylvania serves as both an honorific and a lament in a post-industrial society. The nuclear plant at Three Mile Island becomes an unholy tribute to man’s hubris. The American Talc factory in Texas and a view of the evocative city of Ciudad Juárez on the Mexican border (as seen from El Paso), bear witness to misshapen ideas of power and conceit by those in the US who have extended their imaginations to greatness, but also signifying the potential for dystopia. However, in one of the last paintings in the show, a train transporting wind turbine propellers symbolizes a still-possible future where we embrace intelligence and technology to bring about the peace of economic and ecological security. And in a room given over to the memory of Sun Records, Elvis and the pearly gates of Graceland, the images acknowledge the shift from excitement to the fading influence of rock and roll. These works address the mighty aspirations and inevitable shortcomings of this era and its patriarchy, while still mining the collective spirit that resonates from the power of art.
Also included, and deliberately placed throughout the installation, are Mayerson’s abstract Iconscapes. Continuing his tradition of realizing iconic images from his subconscious into a plastic space, here his Iconscapes are like instrumental movements within a choral symphony. The paintings are cathartic releases of synaesthetic emotion and spirit, painted during the times this summer when America seemed most at peril, with the looming threats of nuclear war with North Korea, the horrors of Charlottesville, and climaxing with the murder of Heather Heyer. The most recent Iconscape in the exhibition is named in her honor. It was created as a tribute to her, and others who continue to battle against evil for the American Dream of equality for all.
While there is this of note of melancholy in these images, Mayerson’s ideology and agenda is one of hope and sober optimism. His dream America is a place that, despite periodic setbacks and entrenched indignities, progresses toward inclusivity, justice, freedom and beauty. This exuberance is reflected in the handling of paint, which is built up in rapid brushstrokes with a passionate focus. The images are mostly painted from the artist’s own photos from a recent cross-country move from New York to Los Angeles in a large moving van, driven by his childhood best friend, the artist Dan Knapp. The two decided to make it an occasion to make it a photographic journey in the spirit of great artist friends—a true collaboration as many locations were inspired by Dan’s love for industry, power, and the liminal landscapes of our country. As intended at the time, many of these paintings are created from that trip, but sadly after Dan died in an auto accident last Spring. The show is also dedicated to him as he has had such an impact on Mayerson’s life and world, a friendship that is hopefully revealed in the paintings. The painting’s surface becomes the active site of Mayerson’s hard work, intensity, grief and his positive movement toward resolution as we experience the conversion of the cool, captured image to an expressionistic labor of love.
Continuing the non-linear narrative of My American Dream, begun in the George W. Bush era, through the aspirational Obama years and now painted to transcend Trump, the series is a Leaves of Grass-like body of work (featured in the 2014 Whitney Biennial, his last Marlborough Contemporary exhibition and recently, as his first solo-museum show at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland) where each painting acts as a poem in his larger narrative of our achievements for civil rights, the magnificence of our land, and the greatness of America’s sublime adventure for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Keith Mayerson is known for his work encompassing portraits, historical scenes, landscapes, and more. Through his paintings, Mayerson creates broader narratives, citing comic books as an inspiration and influence. Keith Mayerson was a Semiotics and Studio Art Major at Brown University where he received his BA in 1988. In 1993, he earned his MFA from the University of California Irvine, and is now Professor of Art at the University of Southern California. Mayerson has exhibited widely and his work is featured in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Columbus Museum of Art.