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'American Dreams: Paintings by John Mellencamp' opens at the Morris Museum of Art
Barbara Morphy at the Preview Party for the 'American Dreams: Paintings by John Mellencamp' exhibition at the Morris Museum.

AUGUSTA, GA.- American Dreams: Paintings by John Mellencamp will open to the public at the Morris Museum of Art—1 Tenth Street, Augusta, Georgia 30901—on Sunday, January 11, 2015. The exhibition will feature fifty oil and mixed media paintings, some of which have never before been seen by the public. It will remain on display through April 12, 2015.

“As a collecting institution, the Morris Museum is specifically dedicated to the art and artists of the American South. This museum champions the culture of the South in all its forms,” said Kevin Grogan, director of the Morris Museum of Art. “We try to make our temporary exhibitions reflective of and complimentary to our particular mission. Mellencamp’s work seems to reflect certain aspects of the contemporary south and lingering aspects of its past. His work is rooted in a kind of agrarian attitude and deep suspicion of urban life. I think the thing that sets Mellencamp apart from many other contemporary painters is his willingness to be direct. He thinks about contemporary social issues, feels them deeply, and comments on them in a very direct way. His work is identifiably, unimprovably American.”

John Mellencamp was inspired to paint at a young age. He moved to New York City in the 1970s to pursue a career in painting or music; unsure which creative endeavor his energies and interests might lead him. When his second album was released in 1977 to great critical acclaim and commercial success, his path was set. Even though his career in music skyrocketed, painting continued to serve as his refuge—a solitary antidote to life on the road and an important means of self-expression.

In 1988 he enrolled at 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 studied with Jan Royce from the Herron School of Art and Design in Indianapolis. His discovery of such early-twentieth- century modernists as Chaim Soutine and Walt Kuhn, as well as the German expressionists Otto Dix and Max Beckmann, led him to adopt a visceral, pared down approach to portraiture.

His portrait paintings evolved to a personal style that some critics describe as similar to the paintings of the German expressionists. They involve exaggeration, distortion of line and color, and a simplified style intended to carry an emotional impact.

Mellencamp’s paintings have been the subject of a number of recent exhibitions at the Tennessee State Museum, the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio, and the Museum of Art—DeLand.

American Dreams: Paintings by John Mellencamp is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog produced by the Morris Museum of Art. It includes a foreward by Kevin Grogan, director of the Morris Museum of Art; an essay by Hilarie M. Sheets, a contributing editor to ARTnews who also writes regularly for the New York Times; and a contribution by Dr. Louis A. Zona, director and curator of the Butler Institute of American Art.

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