Walking The Line With Mark DeMaio

From the Wicked Witch of the West to a Grey’s Anatomy rendering of a skeleton to the inside of surrealist Salvador Dali’s head, New York artist Mark DeMaio’s mesmerizing exhibition I Walk The Line at SoHo’s edgy Sacred Gallery is an all-consuming journey through art historical references, pop cultural figures, clowns, crosses and skulls. 

A complete reversal from his past exhibition, Pop Goes The Bible, which was a colorful collection of cartoon characters cast in Biblical scenes, DeMaio chose to restrict his color palate to solely black, white, silver and a singular gold painting for I Walk The Line.  Rather than limiting his expressions, DeMaio’s simplified colors revealed DeMaio’s strong, unwavering lines and intricate details, as well as the range of his artistic subjects.

Mark DeMaio's "Who Killed My Sister" (2013), oil on canvas, 30" x 40." Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

A showman at heart and given free reign of Sacred Gallery and Sacred Tattoo, which is connected to the gallery, DeMaio’s opening reception for I Walk The Line featured stilt walkers outside the Sacred Gallery doors and free tattoos designed by DeMaio, as well as DeMaio’s fun-filled, slightly trippy canvases that pull the viewer into DeMaio’s creative world.

We spoke to DeMaio about his specific color choices for I Walk The Line, the difference between high and low art and what it was like seeing his art tattooed on gallery-goers bodies.

NYC-AP: For your I Walk The Line exhibition at Sacred Gallery NYC, you limited your colors to black, white, silver and one gold painting.  Why did you choose to work only with these colors?

MDMI always work in crazy, vibrant, circus-like colors. I love color and the more colorful, the better. But after the last show Pop Goes The Bible, it was so bright and so vivid that I almost needed a palate-cleansing and I needed to clear my head from all that. I felt like I was almost getting stagnant in palate and wanted to break free for a show to go in the exact opposite direction.

NYC-AP: Did you miss using color?

MDM: No, oddly enough, I didn’t. I felt very comfortable in black and white. It reminded me of when I was little: I spent all my time drawing on newsprint sketchpads with pencils doodling, drawing and sketching, lying in front of the television. I had an aunt, who has since passed away, who would buy me those 24” x 36” newsprint pads and I would just burn through them. There was never any color involved except for maybe a blue pen instead of a black pen.

It was fun and a really nice break. Maybe it was a regression both artistically and emotionally to go back to that but it was also refreshing.  As much as I love color, particularly what you can do with color and oil paint, I felt at home doing it. I didn’t feel that I was missing anything or that it needed color.

NYC-AP: It is interesting that you describe a sense of a return to child-like wonder with your restriction in color because it seems that your work in I Walk The Line also contains a real child-like sense of joy and spontaneity.

MDM: There are a few adult references, but even those are made in fun. There is nothing aggressive about the show. Everything is done in a playful sense. A thread that runs all through my work is a sense of whimsy and oddly enough, I try so hard every time I start a show to avoid being whimsical. I strive very hard to try to not make anything funny, light or fanciful.

NYC-AP: What do you think the role of humor is in your work?

MDM: I don’t want my work to have a sense of humor whatsoever. I’ve had this discussion for years with friends. I fight against whimsy and everyone is always like, “That’s so funny.”  And I’m thinking, “No, it’s supposed to be dark, moody, strange and a little weird.” Even in Pop Goes The Bible, I was crucifying Bullwinkle upside down and people were laughing their asses off. It’s a losing battle.