Keith Mayerson by Bill Arning

BOMB 61 Fall 1997
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Discover MFA Programs in Art and Writing

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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.

—Bill Arning

Billy Sullivan by Saul Ostrow
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Ellen Berkenblit by Amy Sillman
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Amy Sillman on the delirious tension between knowing and not-knowing in the paintings of Ellen Birkenblit, whose new work is on view at Anton Kern Gallery through March 30.

Eldzier Cortor by Terry Carbone
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“I’m fighting between control and letting nature take its course.”

Portfolio by Dana Lok
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“Traditionally, a painting treats you to the front and center seats. I like the idea you might get a seat that’s off to the side.”

Originally published in

BOMB 61, Fall 1997

Featuring interviews with Gregory Crewdson, Lorna Simpson, Allan Gurganus, Louis Auchincloss, Marie Howe, Rilla Askew, Rupert Graves, Andrew Blanco, and Paula Vogel.

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