Mary DeVincentis paints eerie netherworlds, celestial panoramas, and earthly pastorals that often feature a lone woman and a cast of anthropomorphized animals and flora. Her cartoonish female subjects—self-portraits, essentially—walk lonely roads or float through the air, at times communing with nature in sunny meadows and crepuscular forests. The atmospherics are of ethereal somnambulism and introspection: Think Aesop’s Fables meets Edward Gorey with a hint of roofied-out foreboding à la the 2019 folk-horror film Midsommar. The artist’s exhibition here, “Walking with Ghosts,” extended this pensive arc with seventeen variously sized works in oil, acrylic, Flashe paint, and gouache on canvas and panels.
In the lower portion of the superlative Gathering and Gazing, 2022, a raging inferno surrounded by blackness licked at a field of blue, lilac, and white flowers toward the top of the picture. There, a woman stands with her head bowed in contemplation as she clutches a bouquet of the aforementioned blooms. In the distance lies thick woodland beneath a lurid purple sky and scudding clouds. The painting’s flattened, multitiered perspective unfolds across a single plane, and our imperiled heroine appears to be looking down through metaphorical layers, beyond her heavenly blossoms and into a diabolical subterranean domain. The ragged fringes around the fire, benign at first glance, slowly turn into sinister beckoning silhouettes of cavorting legions.
DeVincentis’s skill at balancing existential exploration and environmental symbolism could also be seen in When the Stars Are Calling You, 2021, and Ophelia Rising, 2022. In the former, the sky is an electric-green vortex, rendered in fast scratchy marks, that descends upon a copse, whipping and thrashing it to the point of distortion. In this maelstrom, four nude female figures, backs arched, are airborne, either swinging from reams of dotted lights like trapeze artists or emitting luminescent bursts from their outstretched arms. The central character of Ophelia Rising hovers in front of a sunset, wreathed in blue flowers. There’s a lovely in-betweenness permeating these canvases—their inner psychology is transmitted via elemental motifs, suggesting self-realization and ascendant womanhood.
The paintings here (perhaps a few too many for the modest two-room gallery) were chosen to align with themes of internal struggle and discovery encountered in The Conference of the Birds, ca. 1177, a spiritual tale by Sufi poet Attar of Nishapur. In that text, the titular creatures are in need of a leader and undertake an arduous expedition to see if the simurgh—a mythic avian being in Persian literature—will take on the job. After much death and destruction, thirty birds manage to survive only to find that what they were seeking lay within them all along.
This narrative was given form in The Consolation of Birds, 2022, wherein a nude woman kneels in a grassy dale, gazing Narcissus-like into an oily black pond. Looking utterly bereft, she hugs (or maybe even restrains?) a flamingo. Many other birds—owls, a starling, finches—are perched in a nearby tree and on a mountain with two breast-like peaks. High aloft, a flock of geese fly westward. The painting seems to touch upon ego, grief, and the attainment (and certainly loss) of wisdom.
DeVincentis is an intuitive and exquisite painter of reverie, mysticism, and vulnerability—a maker of gateways into otherworldly realms. The pagan, supernatural, and botanical motifs in her whirling compositions are so effective that one longs to escape into her magical creations, no matter what dangers they may reveal.
— Darren Jones