Keith Mayerson, I0009, oil on canvas, 20 × 22”. Courtesy of the artist.
Keith Mayerson is hard to pin down. Just when you have a handle on his work, he shifts in some unforeseeable but intuitively right way. He made a splash in 1994 with a 60-plus drawing suite retelling the story of Pinocchio from a queer perspective. Geppetto creates Pinocchio because he wants a “real boy,” but when the puppet appears too femmy Geppetto throws him out. Pinocchio winds up studying queer theory with Jody Foster, and discovering sex on the island of lost boys. But only after he finds love, in the person of Keanu Reeves, does he become a real boy, shouting, “Watch Out Patriarchy, Pinocchio the Big Fag Is Here!” The humor and politics were engaging, but the real showstopper was Mayerson’s virtuosity, stylistically shifting from Goya to William Blake to Charles Burns with alarming ease.
Horror Hospital, his recent illustrated novel done with Dennis Cooper, tempts one to tag him as merely a super-talented cartoonist, but he bursts the boundaries of that category. Pages will go by without text or readable image, just bizarre painterly abstractions that somehow manage to propel the grisly tale. His new mystical abstract paintings are mesmerizing, like technicolor Forest Bess’s, without any appropriationist irony. Like Philip Guston, whose later cartoony paintings made his abstractions look retrospectively like caricatures of some indefinable thing, Mayerson has hit at a previously unnoticed point of osmosis between the fields. Then in between multicolored rings and meandering “iconscapes” as he calls them, there will be a strange depiction of a dime store Jesus, Frankenstein, or the Death Star from Star Wars, all presented with the same lovingly lavish paint. This makes for a wild visual ride.