Mythic City: Oil Paintings

Artist Statement

Mythic City is an ongoing series of work, made as a highly subjective record of the people I encounter as I move through the city of Chicago. Since I work from memory, however, they are not traditional portraits, but rather composites of different features and expressions. It may be the lined and thin-lipped mouth of that pensive man on the train, or the heavy eyes of that woman in the coffee shop, staring blankly at a newspaper. These and other half-remembered fragments bubble up during the painting process. Often, I add fantastic or mythic elements to a piece. Deposed kings and queens lose themselves in past glories, devils plot new schemes, and the entire crowd transforms into a chaotic parade where each participant has a hidden story.

James Deeb was born behind the wall in West Berlin in the mid-1960s. He remembers drawing a lot as a child and making animated movies with lumpy clay dinosaurs. He graduated from Indiana University at South Bend in 1988, and received an MFA from Western Michigan University in 1994. His work is darkly humorous and melancholy in roughly equal measure, making it part of a continuum that has its philosophical roots in texts like Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy. This same current is found in the works of artists like Philip Guston and James Ensor, and the writings of authors like Charles Bukowski. He refers to it as “art in a minor key.”