On view this month at Karma in New York, painter Keith Mayerson introduces his most recent entry in his ongoing series This Land is Your Land, a body of work that sees the artist reflecting on American history and culture as a way to look for new horizons and possibilities.
According to the artist, the work is born out of a narrative series that embarked on twenty years ago in the aftermath of September 11th. Looking at the crisis as an opportunity to focus on and explore the history of the American nation, the artist began painting images of inspiration and hope—the cultural icons, civil rights leaders, family scenes, and sublime landscapes that represent what the American narrative in all of its complexity. In this outing, the artist paints a range of civil rights leaders; Martin Luther King, Harvey Milk and Cesar Chavez among them, as well as cultural icons and political luminaries like Gloria Steinem, Walt Whitman, and more. “The heroes of my life, from childhood to now, give me guidance, faith, and solace. I hope to communicate their spirit to the viewer: they are worthy of memorialization as reminders that our country’s democracy is worth saving,” he says.
From a painterly standpoint, the works are impressive in their rendering, swirling with kinetic energy while managing to showcase deeply human expressions. Mayerson regularly uses this expressiveness as a line to negotiate and play with, especially in The Green Boy (from the Kermitage Collection), a work that poses Kermit the Frog in a traditional princely garb, toying with historical awareness through a distinctly American, irreverent lens.
My American Dream is a cosmology of the America we live in. This Land is Your Land focuses on the profound transformational leaders that have made that dream possible today, taking cues from these figures, as well as the landscapes of the American countryside, depicting the mountain ranges and vistas, as well more intimate depictions of the countryside. It’s a striking narrative the artist has built for himself, a procession of figures and scenes that construct in equal measure a deeply personal representation of American identity, and a look at the dense historical meanings that the country, in all of its vastness, makes possible.
The show closes January 8th.
– D. Creahan
Keith Mayerson – My American Dream: This Land is Your Land [Exhibition Site]