Butler Museum to Exhibit De Mejo’s Whimsical Paintings

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – An exhibition of paintings by the late Italian-born artist Oscar De Mejo will open Sunday, July 16, at the Butler Institute of American Art and run through Oct. 1.

The exhibition will be in the lower-level gallery of the Bacon Wing.

De Mejo’s paintings are a mixture of the naive and the sophisticated, the literal and the outlandish. They are direct, playful, brightly colored and precisely delineated, according to the museum’s description. 

While his whimsical depictions of American life are engaging, their complexity becomes apparent on closer observation. The artist’s unique style of surrealism includes irrational and incongruous details that prod the unconscious mind.

“De Mejo used his artistic talent to celebrate America and Americans,” said Louis Zona, executive director of The Butler.

The 26 paintings in the exhibition 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,” Zona said. “[The paintings] tell a wonderful story of America’s challenges and triumphs. This exhibition is about a uniquely talented artist [who is] in love with his country and its history.”

De Mejo was born in Trieste, Italy, in 1911, and earned degrees in both law and political science. A believer in the occult and, particularly, in I Ching, he chose his art dealer, Ken Nahan, according to the I Ching’s advice.

After World War II, he married 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.

He died in 1992.

Pictured at top: Oscar De Mejo’s “Wagon Train under Attack” (1975, acrylic on board).

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.