John E. Dowell, Jr Sam Gilliam Felrath Hines Gordon Parks Lorna Simpson Richard Hunt Romare Bearden John Woodrow Wilson Robert Colescott Adrian Piper Renée Stout Eldzier Cortor Richard Mayhew Carl Pope
African American Art Text Graphic

Richard Mayhew

Trees, ca. 1962-65

Nature has always held special meaning for Mayhew. As a young child, he said that his grandmother, Sarah Steele Mayhew, taught him respect for the land through “the nature lore, ways, and attitudes” of the American Indian. Rather than representing specific locales, his landscapes hold a spiritual and mystical significance. Sometimes called an American Impressionist, neo-Barbizon, romantic Realist, or contemporary Expressionist, Mayhew defies simple classification. His ethereal images are purely intuitive. He describes himself as an “improvisationalist” whose art has to do with the spontaneous moment. However, his landscapes aren’t done en plein air but from memory. He wants his art to be “based on a feeling…of music and mood and sensitivity and the audio responses of sound and space. I want the essence of the inner soul to be on the canvas.” It is perhaps not surprising that Mayhew was a jazz singer before becoming a painter and that he hung out at the famed Cedar Tavern in New York City with some of the leading Abstract Expressionist artists. Although much of Mayhew’s work is about the power of color, his monochromatic drawings and prints possess a similar abstract, lyrical quality.  

Mayhew was born in Amityville, New York, and moved to New York City in 1945. He trained at Columbia University, the Pratt Institute, the Art Students’ League, Brooklyn Museum of Art School, and the Academia in Florence, Italy. When he returned from Europe in 1962, he began teaching at the Brooklyn Museum. He also became involved with the burgeoning civil rights movement. Mayhew, who is of Native American (Cherokee and Shinnecock) and African American descent, was a founder of the Spiral Group along with Romare Bearden, Norman Lewis, Hale Woodruff, and Felrath Hines. Their mission was to promote racial equality through art, although not all of the members reflected on their heritage in the same way. For Mayhew, his roots were best expressed by a spiritual sensitivity to nature that he felt came through both sides of his family tree. 

Romare Bearden, The Family

Richard Mayhew
American, b. 1934
Trees, ca. 1962-65
Lithograph on paper; published by the Collectors’ Graphics, New York
Gift of Michael and Kim Sherman, IU Art Museum, 97.10.109 Art © Richard Mayhew

Romare Bearden
Robert Colescott
John E. Dowell, Jr
Sam Gilliam
Felrath Hines
Richard Hunt
Gordon Parks
Adrian Piper
Lorna Simpson
John Woodrow Wilson
Renée Stout
Eldzier Cortor
Richard Mayhew
Carl Pope