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AMERICA: Through the Heart and Eyes of Oscar De Mejo

AMERICA: Through the Heart and Eyes of Oscar De Mejo

Oscar De Mejo (1911-1992)

Wagon Train under Attack 1975
Acrylic on board

Gift of Bob Guccione and Kathy Keeton 1996


“The artist Oscar De Mejo was an Italian immigrant who used his artistic talent to celebrate America and Americans. Twenty-six canvases by De Mejo were a gift to the Butler from the late magazine publisher Bob Guccione and his wife. Mr. Guccione was struck by the wonderment of these fascinating works of art which might best be characterized as somewhat primitive in style.  They tell a wonderful story of America’s challenges and triumphs. This exhibition is about a uniquely talented artist in love with his country and its history.”


Dr. Louis Zona, Director

Oscar De Mejo, who was born in Trieste, Italy, had degrees in both law and political science. A believer in the occult and particularly in I Ching, he even chose his art dealer, Ken Nahan, according to the I Ching’s advice. After World War II, he married the movie star Alida Valli (Italy’s answer to Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich), and they moved to the United States. After a stint as a jazz composer, De Mejo finally returned to his first love-painting.


De Mejo’s paintings are a mesmerizing mixture of the naïve and the sophisticated, the literal and the outlandish. They are primitive in the sense of being direct, playful, brightly colored, and precisely delineated.  His work is sophisticated in its choice of themes and the degree to which it is artfully influenced by the primitive. His witty, whimsical depictions of American life are immediately engaging, but upon closer observation their complexity becomes fully apparent, and his unique brand of surrealism is revealed. The myriad irrational and incongruous details that fill his paintings prod both the conscious and unconscious mind.


Oscar De Mejo learned about vision and subtle distortion by studying the work of such naïve painters as Henri Rousseau, just as Rufino Tamayo learned how to disembody his peasants by studying Picasso.


De Mejo’s works have been featured in such publications as the New York Times, Yale Literary Magazine, Architectural Digest, and many more. This exhibition can be seen in the lower level gallery of the Bacon Wing.


Exhibition, Featured


Bacon Gallery
Beecher Center Ground Level


July 16-October 1, 2023