What is it to be abstract?
A relationship between lovers, friends or family can be conceptually abstract while a painting, at once appearing to fit the definition on an aesthetic level, can be quite representational in nature, almost figurative if one squints and reads between the lines or in this case brushstrokes.
Keith Mayerson, from My American Dream at Derek Eller Gallery, New York, 2013
Image courtesy of the Artist

Keith Mayerson, from My American Dream
at Derek Eller Gallery, New York, 2013

Image courtesy of the ArtistSuch is the debate and visual discourse raised within the context of Keith Mayerson’s recent exhibition at Derek Eller Gallery titled My American Dream. Most often when conjuring a vision of abstract painting it is common to think of the Abstract Expressionist movement and artists such as Jasper Johns, Jackson Pollack, etc. the latter whose goal it was to remove or minimise the markings of human presence.  Pablo Picasso invented his own form of abstraction by referencing native art outside of his own culture yet taking generous liberties when dissecting and rearranging the figure on canvas, bringing the native into his own surroundings, specifically the studio. Francis Bacon, also not identified as abstract, used paint to transform bodies in broad strokes, organic shapes folding into themselves.  Even some Magic Realism could be deemed conceptually abstract as the attempt to mimic life is carried out but never achieved, as two dimensional bodies will never take a breath.

In My American Dream by Keith Mayerson, we find a painter, making paintings that teeter between abstraction, realism and upon close inspection even nod towards Impressionism. Mayerson has delved into his own history by way of the adoration of his muse, James Dean, of Rebel Without a Cause fame who died in 1955 at the age of 24. Unbeknownst to me, Mayerson (in a studio visit prior to the opening) shared that Dean was known to have had relationships with men and was portrayed in the media to be heterosexual but in fact gay. A cult figure for both male and female fans, James Dean was the quintessential poster boy who left us at the beginning of a career overshadowed in it’s own mythology. The actor’s presence in the artwork is both subtle as it is obvious. A painting of Dean’s home, whitewashed in siding, was the result of a pilgrimage taken by Mayerson and his husband. In one of the most striking paintings in the exhibition, the artist portrays his family, himself included in a moment caught on film, yellowed, a gaze of a gaze and a translation of togetherness. The faces of the figures are somewhat distorted in a delightful and unexpected way. In moments where the artist is less concerned with the identification of his subjects and more involved with the paint, an unconscious mode of abstraction is achieved. For this exhibition both styles of paintings are installed one next to the other.

Keith Mayerson, from My American Dream at Derek Eller Gallery, New York, 2013
Image courtesy of the Artist

His literal or more traditionally abstract paintings consist of swirly strokes of muted colors never overlapping but rather butting up against one another. Upon closer inspection, the works become less abstract as eyes appear in between otherwise undefinable shapes. In the context of the other representational works, suddenly these abstractions contain melting bodies, buildings that have been put through a blender, national, cultural and gender identities in a straightforward collision of color. If a glossy nationalism runs through the body of work by way of paintings of the Statue of Liberty and President Obama and his family these other fuzzier works allow for a grittier interpretation erasing politics in favor of dreamlike, psychedelic formations in oil paint.

Keith Mayerson, Installation view from My American Dream at Derek Eller Gallery, New York, 2013
Photograph by Katy Hamer

Keith Mayerson, My American Dream is on view at Derek Eller Gallery, New York having opened April 26th and will close May 25th, 2013.

More soon!