My American Dream: Mystery Train
Elvis Nixon, 2017 oil on linen 18 × 26 in. | 45.7 × 66 cm
Elvis Nixon, 2017
oil on linen 18 × 26 in. | 45.7 × 66 cm

This is one of the most famous photographs of either Nixon or Elvis, and one of the most requested from the National Archives. There was a movie made of the event recently, and I hesitated to paint this image, but ultimately had to, as it was so emblematic of Elvis, and the Nixon era, which is such a reminder for now (Trump almost has the showmanship of Elvis, married to the Nixon legacy of political corruption). Installed next to the Elvis’ Childhood painting in this exhibition (of his favorite things that helped to form his American Dream), I feel this is an ironic tribute to what he became, both good and bad.


The story is that on December, 21, 1970, Elvis met Nixon in the Oval office, reportedly to obtain a federal narcotics badge so he could–as Priscilla Presley would write in Elvis and Me—”legally enter any country both wearing guns and carrying any drugs he wished”. There is something subversive about Elvis wearing a cape greeting Tricky Dick, but something also really American about the scenario, both achieving their goals, but also thwarted patriarchs beholden to power. I love late Elvis especially… Growing up, Elvis just seemed like a fat joke, but later in life, after seeing his comeback special, I realized that this man–despite the politics of how he was influenced–was inspired by, and hopefully participated, rather than colonize, rhythm and blues, and helped to change culture by his Rock n’ Roll. Elvis was a man who grew up “white trash” on the wrong side of the tracks, but came up through his faith and faith in music, and a culture largely influenced by the African American world he participated in to help create the genre that would influence the future.


I believe in artists working together with culture, and in this exhibition is a picture of John Muir with Theodore Roosevelt, and Trump with the Pope (with a renaissance resurrection painting in the backgroung by Perugino). In Palm Springs, near where I currently reside, is the Annenberg Estate–Sunnylands. The Annebergs, publishers of TV Guide, would invite politicians of all stripes to their estate, where they would reach across the aisles to discuss issues that involved humanity and the globe. Among the beautiful buildings and gardens was a world-class collection of paintings (many of which are now the Cézannes, Van Gogh’s, and Gauguin’s that I love to visit at the Met) Visiting there I realized that truly painting and art brings humanity to the people–its influence helps to engender warmth and critical thinking to communities, and in doing so, creates a “bedside manner” for a culture to understand itself in order for it become a better place. As ridiculous as Elvis and this picture might be, it is extending, however surreal, a dialog that includes Velázquez and is King, Michelangelo and his Pope, and more!