Mary is a New York City-based artist of great talent and insight. She has such a strong command of her process as you will quickly discover by reading our cool chat below. Also, her work http://marydevincentis.com/default2.asp is powerful and full of allegory. Read on and enjoy her words…
“Perhaps it is the artist's role to help us find a way to pause and look inward at our primal concerns and questions and investigate our darker thoughts and emotions. There is a price for avoiding ourselves.”
MICHAEL: Hi Mary, Your paintings appear to be pleasurable works that give you satisfaction. However, they're also loaded with commentary and allegory. What inspires your work?
MARY: I do enjoy creating works with harmony and visual appeal. This is what I hope may initially attract the viewer to respond to the work and in the process, let their guard down. From there, the more challenging aspects may reveal themselves. For instance, each of the paintings in my, In Flight Series depicts a tiny plane crossing an expanse of painterly sky, above the foliage of the landscape below. But one could also consider all the people in that tiny shape in the sky, where they are going and whether they will arrive safely.
Very early on in life, I got interested in the meta themes of life: What are we doing here? How do we create meaning and purpose? What is suffering about? I grew up in the suburbs of Wilmington, Delaware. All kinds of trauma was happening in my house and in neighbors' homes, beneath the veneer of suburban life. So you see that contradiction reflected in a lot of my work. Language and narrative are important to my inspiration. It is through words and story that I can find my way, visually into a theme.
MICHAEL: Your answer just made me think of something about art and why some people may find it so challenging. We're so busy doing without thinking and acting out without considering consequences. Everyone says they're so stressed and they don't have time for this or that. It's like we don't even have time or the willingness to look beyond the surface. We may not like what we see? Thoughts?
MARY: I think you are on to something Michael. Society now moves at such a fast pace and demands that our attention be outward in focus. Time without external stimulation starts to feel threatening, as we attend less and less to our internal well being. Perhaps it is the artist's role to help us find a way to pause and look inward at our primal concerns and questions and investigate our darker thoughts and emotions. There is a price for avoiding ourselves. Unclaimed, our shadowy aspects get projected outward onto the "other." This is the theme of my recent series of paintings, Sin Eaters, which explores who or what volunteers or is volunteered to absorb or reflect these disowned aspects.
MICHAEL: Do you think there's any value in examining only an artist's technique? I mean, to be quite frank, I've never really been interested in technique. I think people think it's impressive to appear to "know" about an artist's technique. To me, that's like asking me how my computer works! Do I really NEED to know that? I just want to use it. I think that the narrative that artists create is more important.
MARY: For me, technique is a means to an end. You may have noticed that my tactical approach and medium differ widely from series to series. I use whatever helps me best express my intent. That said, I do very much strive for a dynamic tension between form and content. I appreciate seeing evidence in the work of the artist's physicality, their unique fingerprint so to speak, as evidenced in their brush-stroke and mark making.
MICHAEL: What's the purpose and value in doing a painting series? How do you know how many works will be included?
MARY: Michael, a series is a way for me to explore the full potential and dimensions of a theme. It’s also a way to access greater creative freedom. By controlling variables such as size, surface, medium, subject matter and palette, new ways of working are bound to evolve. For instance, in my monotype series, Biting the Dust, I have limited my palette to variations of red, black and white. Within that limitation, I have discovered more innovative ways of using line, texture and tone. Biting the Dust is an ongoing series of many years’ duration. On the other hand, the series One Hundred Not Famous Views (inspired by Hiroshiges’s woodcut series One Hundred Famous Views of Edo) is obviously self-limited. And for some series, it is not clear to me when I begin, how long the idea driving the series will provide a learning curve that will hold my interest.
MICHAEL: During your actual painting process, what's going through your mind? Is your mind blank or full of thoughts? Is the process more intellectual, emotional, spiritual or even physical?
MARY: Discursive thinking actually gets in my way. I've discovered that the more I can fully inhabit my body as I paint, the quieter my mind becomes, and as a result, an intuitive intelligence takes over. The word “spirituality” is a “no no” in most parts of the art world, but I do believe that the creative process is a spiritual process.
MICHAEL: If it's a "no-no," then let's go there, shall we? "No-nos" are my specialty. If the creative process is spiritual, then my guess is that you see yourself as perhaps a "vessel"? Many people run from spirituality. Could that be one of the reasons why they might avoid art?
MARY: Glad you like "no nos" Michael! I don't see myself as a vessel. It's my guess, based on my own experience, that at the most fundamental level, creative consciousness (but call it what you may) is all pervasive. Quantum physics alludes to this. It's more a matter of learning to relax the ego and the story of self enough to experience its natural flow. One can train how to do so, and sometimes it just happens through some kind of grace. I am thinking we all have this capacity and express it in our unique manner, whether through making art or otherwise. The word spiritual has become loaded with all kinds of unfortunate associations. Maybe people avoid art because they feel they should be able to "understand" it rather than simply trusting their experience of it.
MICHAEL: How has living in New York impacted your career? Is New York still the center of the art world?
MARY: It was a great relief for me to move to an urban environment, (first Baltimore, then London and finally NYC) where madness, aggression, poverty, pain and beauty are up front and center and not as hidden behind closed doors as in the suburbs. I love the diversity, energy and the abundance of culture in New York City and have a hard time imagining myself elsewhere. The challenge has been (and still is to some degree) to get beyond mere survival to thriving here, and that is a creative accomplishment in and of itself. The presence of so many other artists is both inspiring and daunting. I like that there is not one but many, many art communities within the five boroughs, so it feels possible to find those that are right for you. I don't think that the art world has one center any more, not in this digital and global era.
MICHAEL: How do you feel about being a painter in this digital age where so much is about movement and rapid change?
MARY: I suspect that painting will endure as a valid medium, both because it was one of our earliest forms of creative expression, dating back to prehistory, and because of its physical tangibility. Paint is akin to skin, bone, blood, mineral, plant and stardust. Perhaps in today's world, painting can offer refuge for eyes, minds and hearts wearied by an overload of visual micro-bits. It may be that paint has the potential to be the most radical medium of our time.
MICHAEL: Finally Mary, Long after you're gone and your work remains, what do you want your body of work to say to people about yourself? What's the overall message?
MARY: May those who someday stumble upon my work find encouragement there to …
Surrender your feet
to the feel of the rain.
Sink your socks into it.
Let yourself grow long.
Refuse to wonder
when it will end.
MICHAEL: Thanks Mary. This has been quite an illuminating chat.
MARY: Thank you so much for the opportunity to be interviewed by you. It was both a fun and challenging (in a good way) process! Your articles and interviews are a great service to artists and all those interested in contemporary art.
Check out Mary DeVincentis at http://marydevincentis.com/default2.asp.