Portraits of Democracy presents a suite of identically scaled, small-format paintings that each depict aspects of our current culture and society through images of people and objects. Imbued with political tension and “conditions of living,” St. John’s paintings take on portraiture from a “street up” point of view.
St. John’s work conveys a sustained commitment to observing and re-presenting experiences of the everyday. Gathering source materials by casting an inclusive and penetrating gaze on the world through which he moves, St. John layers newspaper clippings, found images, fragmented language and everyday objects into captivating collaged portraits of America at present. Underlying this recalibration of the growing circuit of visual information is an insightful and rigorous formal practice, drawing from Rauschenberg and Warhol to the Ashcan School artists and 19th-century American trompe l’oeil painting. With a dedication to recognizing and commemorating the time we live in, St. John’s work reflects on notions of violence, tragedy, narcissism, racism, and indifference, drawing stimulating connections that kindle new and compassionate perspectives on civility.
Offering insight into a world of compendium views, his painting Democracy (Love), a partial side-view portrait with a Coca-Cola bottle forcefully depicted in the subject’s mouth, reflects an observational, witty, metaphoric take on the American obsession with sex, violence, consumerism, and exceptionalism. “My automatic reaction to anyone who says something is the ‘right way’ is to ask why. . . it is a good time to ask why?”’ said St. John in a recent interview in Art Speak, where he goes on to describe his paintings as compositions of the street, “the things left by people on the street that record their daily life or life as it is.”
Michael St. John attended the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, Chicago, IL, School of Visual Arts, and Art Students League, New York, NY. Recent solo exhibitions include Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York, NY; Karma, New York, NY; Marvelli Gallery, New York, NY; and Team Gallery, New York, NY. His work has been included in group exhibitions at Marborough Broome Street, New York, NY; CCA Bard/Hessel Museum of Art, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY; The Rubell Family Collection, Miami, FL; Spring Break Art Show, New York, NY; Kathleen Cullen, Brooklyn NY; Greene Naftali, New York, NY; American Folk-Art Museum, New York, NY; New Jersey Museum of Contemporary Art, Asbury Park, NJ; and Andrea Rosen, New York, NY. His work has been reviewed by The New York Times, Art News, Art in America, The Village Voice, W Magazine, Art Speak, and BOMB Magazine. His work is included in numerous public collections such as The Rubell Family Collection/Contemporary Arts Foundation, Miami, FL; Neuberger Berman, New York, NY; MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge MA; Zabludowicz Collection, London, UK; and the Weatherspoon Art Museum, Greensboro, NC.