We got to interview the wonderful Keith Mayerson for the closing of his show My American Dream. It is a wonderful show that is still in its last few days, so please go if you can.
On painting the decisive moment of choosing the career path of “artist”:
I’ve always created art since I could hold a pencil, as they say. But there was a moment that I felt I should concentrate on art, specifically. In addition to drawing and painting, I had always created comics, and had wrote and directed plays in college when I was at Brown, but upon graduation, I traveled around Europe and Africa (my sister was in the Peace Corps in Kenya and got to stay with her and all of her friends), and symbolically, in Lamu, Kenya I looked out at the Ocean and declared that I would come to New York City and be an Artist. There is a painting in the show of this, “The Young Man and the Sea”.
And on the joys of that decision:
I constantly have affirmations, almost every day. The meditation of painting is such a treat for me, and I count my blessings each time I come up to my easel, and when a work is complete, and when I have shows, when someone mentions they enjoy my work, when someone wants to actually purchase something I made (!), when I’m teaching and giving back what I learned—something everyday reminds me how fortunate I am to be an “artist”, whatever this actually means!
On using doubt as a motivator to create better and better works:
This is also something that happens almost every day—painting especially is a masochistic act, as you are always painting over strokes you previously made—“it doesn’t go like this, it’s like this” and so on! But also, I think hopefully most good artists always think they can be even better, with each new work I hope it will be my new “masterpiece” and upon completion, I try to best it with the next work I create.. Hopefully I’ll keep on with this Sisyphean battle until I get really old, and then I can eat ice cream and die, like Louise Bourgeois!
On drawing inspiration from all of life:
I love film… and see movies all the time with my husband, and think of my paintings and drawings like they are film stills… I also teach comics, and am the “Cartooning Coordinator” at the School of Visual Arts, one of the best schools in the world for comics, and think of my installations as like “comics on the wall”. And I love music and literature, and listen to music and audio books specific to my works to help me, like a method actor, get into the world of my images all the more. And if we aren’t talking art of any kind, my husband Andrew is a huge influence, my family and friends… And Nature in general—the Old Masters always said to turn to nature if you want to create anything “new”, and now I’m almost always making work (albeit from my own photos) of how people and things exist in nature, and the flora and fauna—landscapes and more (even if they are built upon by humankind!) in nature.
On wanting to marry the old with the not so old to create the new:
I love the populism and cultural relate-ability of Warhol, Pop Art, and Post-Modernity, as it recognizes the world outside the picture plane and makes art relevant to life and how we think about our culture. But I also love the work of the Old Masters and Modernity, for its warmth, emotion, transcendence, ineffability, and beauty. I think if we could marry Warhol and Rembrandt together and have them have artistic offspring, we could do something different and new in painting in particular, which is bit of my agenda and/or where I find myself in art.
On the choice to move from traditional cartooning to the art-world:
I come from comics, and theater and playwriting and directing, in addition to fine art. I first wanted to be a cartoonist, as I was always the “campus cartoonist” at all the schools I went to, and came to NYC to be a New Yorker cartoonist, thinking this would be the way to pay for writing plays and creating fine art. But I realized, with my first jobs after college working at art magazines and galleries, that fine art was about bringing up ideas aesthetically, just as cartoons were, and while I wasn’t interested in just having my work elicit humor, but the deeper notions of making people think while giving them something wonderfully aesthetic to enjoy looking at, that fine art fit me best—I also loved the act of rendering while meditating upon the subject matter, and painting (and drawing) was a terrific act of mental yoga that allowed the pleasure of this process to come through the most.
On creating meditative & allegorical experiences for the viewer:
I hope my work is painterly and thoughtful, felt and considered and “smart” in how it operates within the cultural universe. I want to make work that is meditative to look at, while provocative in what you might think about while you are pondering one of my pictures, and the installations in which they reside.
I hope [viewers] can understand that my art exhibitions are installations of paintings and drawings that are like “books on a wall”— like a comic (or stain glass window, or church fresco, or Benton/Rivera/Etc.-esque mural). Hopefully each image can stand on its own for its painterly aesthetic and self contained allegorical content, but like pearls on a string, or panels in a comic, each one juxtaposed to the other is strategic in how it might convey a non-linear narrative of story and feeling.
On being part of the community of art:
Having art exhibitions truly is an experience I feel so fortunate to have—despite the anxiety they can provoke (you always want people to like the work and for it to be “undeniable”!) they are an addictive thing to work towards to, as I really enjoy expressing myself to a broader public through my work. I also love community, and my fellow traveler artists, teachers, students, and collectors, curators, dealers, critics, and friends are such an amazing world that I really enjoy being part of, and although sometimes our self-confidence gets in the way and its easy to have social anxiety in these networks, I feel so grateful to be part of such an edifying cosmology.
On what rarely gets said but is most important:
I live and breath what I do—I always say that I’m a “monk” for art—that if I’m not painting or drawing I’m teaching (and I have taught fine art too for the 20 years or so I’ve been exhibiting!), and/or being at art world event commiserating with my community. I mean every work I create with the utmost sincerity, that I’m really living through my paintings, and using them as meditations to understand and “get through” life. That all my art shows are non-linear stories on the wall, that hopefully, even if the spectator doesn’t understand this, that they experience the viewing of my installations as a synesthetic journey. That I love painting, and hope that how the image might not look like a photo is what is “me” about it—I’m a son of a psychoanalyst and have a penchant for the unconscious—and I think what painters who still work with brushes can bring to the table is that while their conscious mind is creating an image, the unconscious can also help to drive the brush, and that ultimately I want my works to break into an ineffable abstraction of feelings and to generate ideas outside of my conscious attention. That ultimately, hopefully, my work can have a life of its own that goes beyond my intentions, that it can help to somehow make the world a better place.
To see Keith’s work in person you can go see his show up at Marlborough Chelsea until December 23. If you would like to follow Keith and his work you can go to his website & his Instagram; he has also published a number of books you can see here.
My American Dream runs from October 30 – December 23, 2015