Noah Becker: What is your background and when did you decide to be an artist?
Mary DeVincentis: I grew up in the suburbs of Wilmington, Delaware. My mother was a graduate of what was then The Philadelphia College of Art, now the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
NB: Did your mom continue with art after her schooling?
MD: She became a homemaker but kept her big toe in painting and we took lots of wonderful trips together to the Philadelphia Museum. When I was about ten, she got a job as an art teacher/therapist at the Delaware State hospital for the mentally ill and she often took me along with her when she went.
NB: So you did a lot of trips to the museum?
MD: Yes, and professional boundaries back then were not all what they are now, so sometimes she’d have her students over or take then along to the museum with us.
NB: So through this you knew you would become an artist?
MD: My Mom’s work was very academic and traditional, but watching her patients work, I got to see first hand what it was like to follow your own ideas without inhibition and to develop a feel for whether a painting is alive or dead. So yes, from a very young age I knew I wanted to be an artist.
NB: You present a kind of painterly somnambulism in terms of the viewer's experience with your art. Is this kind of mystical vision-making something you work with?
MD: I like your phrase, “painterly somnambulism.” In this series and in general, I am very interested in transitional states of mind and of being and how they might be depicted visually so that the viewer can feel some degree of resonance with such experiences.
NB: Some of your works are very intimate, like a close up of a spider's web, other pieces show vistas and views of outer space. This all seems very cinematic - Stanley Kubrick comes to mind. Do you think about film or is it more about literature for you?
MD: I am very affected by story–telling of all sorts, written and aural, fictional or factual, but not so often by film. It seems I need to start from the left side of my brain so to speak, and find the imagery from that starting point. It is an enjoyable challenge. For instance, I was very impacted by reading Lincoln in the Bardo and did a series of paintings based on its characters and their unusual and profoundly moving circumstances.
NB: So you like the narrative aspect?
MD: Though the back-story is important to me, I want the viewer to have the freedom to approach the work from his or her own individual perspective and sensibility. To that end I try to keep the paintings' imagery and their titles somewhat open-ended.
NB: I love the colors you use, tell me something about where the inspiration for your colors comes from?
MD: Color is one element where I have trouble restricting myself. I am an instinctive colorist and rarely ever decide beforehand what my palette is going to be for a given painting. I trust color to convey mood and emotion and to seduce the viewer into engaging with often dysphoric content.
NB: I'm thinking these are somewhat small scale works?
MD: Most of these are 5 by 4 feet, with several that are around 3 by 4 feet. This is as big as I have worked and it’s a very satisfying size for me right now.
NB: Wow bigger than I thought!
MD: Previously, I have typically worked smaller than this. I remember reading something that Howard Hodgkin said about wanting to make paintings no wider than the width of his arms, though of course he didn’t stick to that.
NB: Whitehot Magazine interviewed the late Howard Hodgkin in these very pages a few years ago…
MD: But Hodgkin was talking about intimacy I think, and about a one to one relationship between artwork and viewer. I am hoping that these larger pieces retain some degree of intimacy upon encounter.
NB: I've been making a lot of drawings and paintings on paper and I've used Yupo paper a lot in past years. Yupo has that wonderful transparent quality when you paint on it. You really take advantage of the depth that's possible with this kind of smooth paper in your work. Do you also work on canvas?
MD: I am really enjoying the Yupo as a surface. It is so forgiving and durable, not to mention affordable. I love how the paint sits on its surface. I use rollers, scrapers and paper towels to paint with as ways keep my hand loose. That said, I do work in oil and I will be interested to see how I apply what I have learned working so freely with the yupo to working in that medium again.
NB: Some of your paintings seem like symbols loosened and kind of floating in space (outer space), is there a sci-fi aspect, or just the idea of looking up at the night sky?
MD: Not so much either one I would say. It is more the experience of an inner space that I am evoking; the kind of space that pops up in dreams and in meditative states.
NB: We see green water, yellow skies, dark crimson and black shapes in landscape settings. Your work puts painting first, which I admire very much. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka comes to mind. I'm seeing through the eyes of your protagonist then other times we find ourselves in dangerous waters. Is your narrative sense planned out or intuitively organized?
MD: Thank you. I am very glad that it comes through that the painting comes first. That is very important to me. I might start with an idea and make a small and very rudimentary drawing in my sketchbook for reference, and other times just begin without forethought. In either case, once I get started, it’s all intuition. If I start to feel anxious or strained as I work, I have learned to instruct myself to start enjoying myself again!
NB: There is a poetic feeling to your work - Rimbaud comes to mind and T.S. Elliot. Is that interesting to you? Poetry?
MD: I do love poetry: T.S. Eliot as well as Jorge Luis Borges, Galway Kinnell, E.E Cummings, David Whyte, Emily Dickinson, Auden, Whitman, to name a few. WM
Mary DeVincentis, Dwellers on the Threshold opens at David&Schweitzer Contemporary on April 6 and will be on view through April 29.
Noah Becker is an artist and the publisher and founding editor of Whitehot Magazine. He shows his paintings internationally at museums and galleries. Becker also plays jazz saxophone. Becker's writing has appeared in The Guardian, VICE, Garage, Art in America, Interview Magazine, Canadian Art and the Huffington Post. He has written texts for major artist monographs published by Rizzoli and Hatje Cantz. Becker directed the New York art documentary New York is Now (2010). Becker's new album of original music "Mode For Noah" was released in 2023.
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