The Spiritual Realm of Richard Mayhew

By LeFalle-Collins, Lizzetta | American Visions, April 2000 | Go to article overview

The Spiritual Realm of Richard Mayhew


LeFalle-Collins, Lizzetta, American Visions


Although many viewers describe Richard Mayhew's paintings as landscapes, he resists that designation. Mayhew's pur-suit of art began upon the traditional path marked by the Hudson River school's renowned landscape painters, yet his eyes and spirit provoked him to explore the limitless connections between humanity and nature. For over four decades, he has absorbed and then committed to canvas the magnificence that nature communicates--the dynamic colors, elaborate textures and atmospheric illusions.

"How do you interpret landscape with a feeling?" Mayhew asks. "Many of my so-called landscapes are very abstract because they are very free-form; I am involved with the spiritual feeling of space. Just to work with figures would be very limiting because that would identify a particular place or situation. The paintings look like landscapes but that is not necessarily my preoccupation in painting.

"I began working with abstract expressionists because they are involved with the emotional expression in painting. That emotional expression came out with the thick application and spontaneous application of the paint. But I wanted something more than that, so I became more involved with the forms of nature, but not necessarily with landscapes. My art is 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."

Mayhew's reverence for the land and sea was established during his early years in his native Amityville, a small hamlet on Long Island. His father, Alvin Mayhew, was of African-American and Shinnecock Indian descent; his mother, Lillian Goldman Mayhew, was the product of a Cherokee Indian and African-American ancestry. The artist's grandmother, Sarah Steele Mayhew, taught him the "nature lore, ways and attitudes" of American Indians, from which his early appreciation of creation was born. The brave alliance between his African-American and Indian ancestors was illuminated when Mayhew learned the part that the Shinnecock played in the Underground Railroad: Tribe members ferried Canada-bound runaways across Long Island Sound and into Connecticut.

Mayhew and his brother Alvern often went along with their father, an avid fisherman, when he left home at dawn to cast his lines. Such experiences, combined with his grandmother's teachings, would deepen the young Mayhew's spiritual regard for earth, water, light and sky. Long Island Sound's somber mystique instilled in him a feeling that was both stimulating and sobering. During the summers, artists from New York City would visit the sound, taking refuge from the metropolis's bustle and heat to paint at the seashore. For the visiting artists, the resort town of Amityville was a quiet country retreat. Mayhew looked forward to the artists' arrival each year and enjoyed seeing their easels positioned in the grass and sand. Several of the visitors were influenced by the Hudson River school of painters, who were dedicated to capturing the quietude and the changing moods of nature.

Mayhew recalls being "fascinated by the artists dipping their brushes into the paint like a magic wand and by the images coming out on the end of it." His father painted houses and signs for a living, and Mayhew secretly began using his father's paints and brushes to explore his artistic impulses. Mayhew's curiosity about their work intrigued the artists that he watched along the sound, and when he was 14, one of them invited him to show what he could do. From this point on, Mayhew would enjoy the encouragement of these artists, and he would join them regularly to conduct his own first experiments.

When not keeping company with the artists, Mayhew learned more about painting by perusing copies of Apollo Magazine, a British publication that his grandmother brought home from work. He retreated often to the attic, where the magazines were stored, to avoid household chores and to while away hours immersed in a world of art and antiques. …

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