Mellencamp’s power shows in art exhibition



John Mellencamp’s upcoming art exhibition is larger than his first, a reflection of his rising stock as an artist.

Titled “John Mellencamp: Expressionist,” the exhibition comprises more than 40 pieces. It opens Thursday and runs through Nov. 18 at the Butler Institute of American Art.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer had his first museum exhibition in 2013-14 at the Butler’s Trumbull branch. The new show is double the size, sprawling over two galleries on the second floor of the main museum on Wick Avenue.

“This one is more of a retrospective than the previous one,” said Louis A. Zona, executive director of the Butler and chief curator.

The new exhibition includes a few pieces that were in the first show. It also includes several montages and mixed media pieces.

One massive work, a construction appropriately titled “Monstrosity,” is approximately 10 feet wide by four feet high and includes found objects from everyday life, painting, and altered photos. It’s propped up on an old ironing board and an industrial scale.

But mainly, the exhibition consists of oil-based portraits in Mellencamp’s strong German Expressionist style that employs dark colors and heavy strokes. Depictions of people border on grotesque with somber faces. Several works express messages of social activism.

At least two of Mellencamp’s paintings pay homage to earlier works by his artistic idols, including Max Beckmann and Jack Levine.

As a whole, the exhibition is captivating and elicits a powerful attraction to viewers.

Zona was clearly impressed as he discussed the exhibition during a preview tour last week.

“I love it,” he said. “ I love the creativity and the innovation. John is his own person and he’s got wonderful skills. He can do everything from a traditional painting to the strangest constructions.”

In his introduction to the exhibition, which will be printed in the accompanying catalog, Zona calls Mellencamp an extraordinary artist.

“[His] social realism is amplified by the nature of his approach,” writes Zona. “He is an expressionist with a capital ‘E’.”

Art and culture writer David Shirey points to Mellencamp’s rebel nature as the source of his power as a painter.

“One of the canonical pieties of modernist art is that art is about art,” wrote Shirey. “It is not about politics, history, mythology or storytelling ...It’s about the application of paint to surfaces, adherence to forms, shapes and colors in ... an integral composition. It’s art for art’s sake, what some call formalism.

“John Mellencamp runs afoul of this piety. He addresses, consciously or unconsciously, the nemeses of the formalists by fully exploring a host of narratives: social injustices, political diatribes, the saturnine nature of humanity, the depravities and brutalities of existence.”

The Butler Institute of American Art, 524 Wick Ave., is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m Tuesday through Saturday, and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday (closed Mondays). Admission is free.


What: “John Mellencamp: Expressionist” art exhibition

When: Thursday through Nov. 18

Where: Butler Institute of American Art, 524 Wick Ave., Youngstown

Hours: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m Tuesday through Saturday, and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday (closed Mondays). Admission is free