Keith Mayerson just opened his sixth solo show at Derek Eller Gallery. Titled My American Dream, the show is a narrative series that consolidates Keith’s autobiographical experience with his political and spiritual outlook. Keith covers marriage, family, New York City, rural America, James Dean, icons, death, the subconscious, storms, and what the mind sees.
Keith is the son of a psychoanalyst, the husband of a professor, a mentor to countless students and artists, and a brilliant painter. My American Dream is a prismatic album of warm memories, cool observations, inward exploration, and cosmic wonder. Marriage is a touchstone of Keith’s worldview, as it was for Kierkegaard, who described it as an essential stage in the metamorphosis of a maturing person. For Keith, it also open ups new social dimensions: the family, the state, the country. Husband as citizen; citizen as husband. It is like naturalization for the mind (and heart).
Husbands (Andrew and I), 2012 is the best window into this show (though Family, 2013 is the best seat). Keith and his real-life husband, Andrew, pose for a #selfie at their home in California, where they married before California passed Prop 8; that is, before church-driven forces spent a fortune to mislead the public into denying Constitutional rights to an unpopular minority. Times are better now. Since the show opened, two more U.S. states have passed marriage equality and one embraced civil unions. But more central to the painting, which Keith has described as his own private Jewish Bride, is how its beatific religiosity overpowers the secular topic. Keith and Andrew look graceful and splendid in a bond that no zealot, storm, nor communist menace could tear asunder. A light that never goes out falls centrally upon them, the spectrally striated sky behind them seems to roil with volcanic murmurs, colors shift and shimmer, and space appears to rush toward us as Keith-Andrew hurtle across the universe.
That cosmic awareness makes an experience that is almost out-of-body in View from our Chelsea Window, 2012. The only thing real is waking and rubbing your eyes, and in this painting, it’s like waking up really late or really early. Historical uncertainty. An American flag, clewed up, halfway, like a rising eyelid, reveals a golden street scene. One could pause to admire how the vertical buildings outside square off with the horizontal window frame and will, or one could move on and consider the purple and intimate private space inside sheltered from the brassy public space outside. And then we learn that on July 4th, Keith and Andrew layed in bed to watch the Independence Day fireworks outside their window, which actually does have an American flag as a window dressing. Two joined souls are sharing a bed, contemplating the long history that made this moment possible; they share a bed and a consciousness, looking together through one eye.
A theme that precedes the topics listed above is commitment, which is an ethical choice. Most of the paintings in this show depict behavior and activity that require commitment. Marriage is an obvious example. Family, too. Surviving in NYC is a commitment. Painting is definitely a commitment. Insistently looking inward is a commitment. Researching James Dean could be a commitment, but it strikes me as obsession, which is a relative of commitment, but possibly younger.