John Mellencamp is best known for his rugged heartland rock songs, but he can be found among paintbrushes and canvases in his spare time.

For Mellencamp, making music and creating artwork have always gone hand in hand. "There's nothing closer to heaven than painting," Mellencamp told The Guardian in 2018. "That's as close as you get. You're totally released to your imagination and you can't edit your imagination. It took me a long time to come to that conclusion. I think my songs and paintings reflect that."

Mellencamp has painted for most of his life, but it wasn't until the late '80s that he considered art more than just a hobby. In 1989, Mellencamp directed a video for Bob Dylan's "Political World." One afternoon, Dylan, who also paints, visited Mellencamp in his art studio and asked him what he planned to do with all the paintings. "I said, 'I don’t know,'" he recalled in a 2015 interview. "It hadn’t dawned on me.

"He said, 'Well, people would like to have this.' I said, 'What people?' And he said, 'I don’t know. People buy my stuff.' And I said, 'Yeah, so?' Bob said, 'I know a guy who knows a guy, who knows a guy. Maybe you should talk to that guy.' And so Bob hooked me up with this guy, and here we are. It’s that simple."

Since then, Mellencamp has sold his work and displayed it in many galleries, even though he still thinks of his art as something personal. "I don’t really paint for any other reason other than myself,” he said. "I paint pretty rough paintings, I try to keep them raw and primitive. They’re like my songs: grotesquely beautiful."

A selection of Mellencamp's artworkJohn Mellencamp: Paintings and Assemblages, is now on display at the New York Academy of Art (curated by Dexter Wimberly) until Nov. 15. Admission is free. You can see photos from the exhibition below.

John Mellencamp Paintings and Assemblages: Photo Gallery

On view until Nov. 15, 2022.

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