Keith Mayerson


My Prometheus: E de K and her JFK's, 2019


Elaine was commissioned to create a portrait of the president for the Harry S. Truman library in 1962, that became her obsession for nearly a year. First travelling to the "Winter White House" in Palm Beach Florida, she started to work on a series of sketches from life--"He was incandescent, golden. And bigger than life." It was fantastic that she got the commission, as a woman at the time, she was under appreciated as an artist, and as she did figurative painting in a time when the men were all being heralded as Abstract Expressionists, she took that ideology to "capture a glimpse of a likeness" to her portraits. But she worked fast, and JFK moved quickly, and her talents were recognized by the president and Jackie, who promoted culture and the arts--they recognized the significance and the role of creativity within a free society. JFK wrote that "But art means more than the resuscitation of the past, it means the free and unconfined search for new ways of expressing the experience of the present and the the vision of the future. When the creative impulse cannot flourish freely, when it cannot freely select its methods and objects, when it is deprived of spontaneity, then society severs the root of art." She created dozens of images of him, trying to "get it right," what she couldn't know was that he was soon to come to his demise, assassinated just after she finished, which devastated her, she couldn't paint again for a year. But the JFK portraits are some of her most important works--the painting that ended up being in the National Portrait Gallery still is wonderfully different than all the others, and has a fresh vitality even today, and one of the few there of presidents painted by a woman. It was intense to work on this painting, to try to pay homage to this great woman and her masterworks. In the current political climate, JFK was a breath of fresh air and aspirational, but also eerily coinciding with the troubled events surrounding Iran, which reminded me so much of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and many of the same issues that we are experiencing today. Her last work, the giant JFK was her favorite that she kept for herself, where she finally created a work that fulfilled her vision to capture his true spirit. I'm hoping by making a history painting of her history paintings, folding her into a painting of her works, it could be aspirational to recognize her important contribution to art history, and present an image that reminds us of a visualization of the idea of a new frontier for which we should as a nation ever try to strive.