by Alyssa Morlacci | December 8, 2021

See John Mellencamp’s Artwork in this Charming Florida Town

A new winter exhibit at The Museum of Art - DeLand showcases a different side of musician John Mellencamp’s talent with a poignant collection of layered paintings and assemblages.

John Mellencamp: Driving in the Rain, 2020, Oil on Canvas

John Mellencamp has spent just about as many years perfecting the art of portraiture as he has cranking out heartland rock hits. For decades, the lyricist has entertained millions with music that’s reached listeners’ inner consciences through examinations of society, culture and the struggles of youth.

Perhaps lesser known is his ability to do this with paint on a canvas, striking a sharper tone with tougher social justice commentary folded into the layers of his latest works. Come this winter, Floridians can experience some of Mellencamp’s art firsthand during a solo exhibition, John Mellencamp: Paintings and Assemblages, at The Museum of Art – DeLand. 

John Mellencamp: The Stardust Sisters, 2013, Mixed Media on Canvas

Mellencamp, 70, lives in Bloomington, Indiana, and is currently working on the release of his 25th album, for which he debuted a sample of the song “I Always Lie to Strangers,” earlier this year. Taking a tone similar to that of his pensive new album are his oil paintings, for which he enlists a moody color palette and unsmiling subjects who portray sunken eyes and haunting stares. Mellencamp, who is of German descent, is drawn to a style consistent with early 20th-century German expressionism, which he taps into to manifest his artistic interpretation of both beauty and pain. 

One piece Pattie Pardee, executive director at The Museum of Art – DeLand, hopes to exhibit in the upcoming show is Mellencamp’s 2020 oil painting Strange Fruit II. Inspired by the 1939 Billie Holiday song that compares lynched slaves to the fruit of trees, Mellencamp’s canvas depicts George Floyd standing next to a skeletal man who has
been hanged.

“Seven years ago the Museum of Art – DeLand presented one of John Mellencamp’s first museum shows, and it remains one of the most well-attended in our 70-plus-year history,” Pardee says. “Fan curiosity may have driven numbers initially, but his undeniable artistic proficiency created new audiences for his paintings.”

Mellencamp started painting at a young age and received his formal training at the Arts Student League of New York. During the late ’80s, Mellencamp turned his attention to visual arts as a way to get out of the public eye and spend more time alone. 

John Mellencamp: Carnie, 2020, Oil on Canvas

“There’s nothing closer to heaven than painting,” Mellencamp once told The Guardian. He never intended to share his artwork with anyone, that is until his friend Bob Dylan—who also has a penchant for painting—encouraged him to display his work in museums and galleries. 

During his upcoming solo exhibition, which runs from Jan. 14 through March 27, Floridians can travel to the charming town of DeLand, situated between Orlando and Daytona, to see the artist’s latest collection.

No matter the medium—lyrics set to music or paint brushed onto a canvas—it’s always been Mellencamp’s mission to hold a mirror up to society.