Many modernist and postmodernist artists have sought to lay bare art's status as a commodity: easy to purchase, easier still to reproduce. By contrast, Hunt Slonem's paintings appeal to the viewer's sense of an earlier epoch, when there was a narrow line between a piece of "fine art" and a totem that might confer a blessing—like the altarpiece or rood screen in a Medieval church.
"I meditate," Slonem says of his artistic process. "I get kind of a vision in my mind's eye." The New York-based painter is confident that his images draw their power from what he calls "an advanced vision." At the Rymer's new exhibit, Slonem's exuberantly colored and hypnotically patterned oil paintings demonstrate the results of this approach.
If Slonem doesn't take a ruthlessly pragmatic approach to his art, he can afford not to. His work is represented by New York's Marlborough Gallery, and he has pieces in the Metropolitan Museum's permanent collection; paintings in the Rymer show sell for as much as $48,500. The Rymer's relationship with the painter began in 2007, when they added him to a short list of big-name artists whose work they wanted to bring to Nashville. Jeff Rymer, the owner, was a fan, and gallery director Tonia Trotter had studied him in college.
As gallery curator Herb Williams explains, Slonem's local connections are part of the reason the exhibit came together. The painter spent time as a Vanderbilt undergraduate in 1969, and even today, he says, "I get a kick out of Nashville." After they contacted him by letter, Slonem invited them to tour his Hell's Kitchen studio and let them introduce a few of his new paintings. This is his first full-scale Nashville show.
One 6-foot canvas, "Guardians," looks like an abstract composition. On top of a wash of white, cream and blurry clouds of pink, Slonem has painted a cluttered grid in thick lines of black. The canvas is filled with hundreds of squares; each square is divided by two horizontal lines at the bottom, and by a vertical line on the top. There's a black dot in the middle of each resulting square. The pattern is irregular, and the painting is more suggestive of joyous enthusiasm than mechanical regularity.
Some of this enthusiasm is explained when the viewer learns the vision behind the work. The "Guardians" of the title are stylized monkey faces peering at the spectator: iconic images that Slonem, influenced by legends about the Hindu monkey god Hanuman, sees as "spiritual protectors." His desire to paint the animals was also inspired by Frida Kahlo's monkey paintings, and by observing his own pets. Slonem collects exotic birds, monkeys and other animals. They're housed in his New York studio and his four other homes: when I reached him on the phone, he was traveling from his Louisiana plantation mansion.
Like "Guardians," many of these paintings play on the contrast between abstraction and representation. In "Lucky Charm," seven rabbits romp on a red-and-gold ground that doesn't recede, but extends right up to the top of the canvas. It's accented with a few red, yellow and white butterflies. The painting's surface has been scored with an irregular crosshatch to reveal a layer of orange (and some red) paint. This renders the image indistinct, while creating a richly textured surface.
Slonem developed this scoring technique after observing birds from behind the bars of his 30-foot aviary. He scratches his paintings' surface with the sharpened handle of a paintbrush. Because he works in oil, he has about three days to finish a piece before it sets. The technique has become one of his trademarks. It creates a boldly tactile three-dimensional surface, but for Slonem, it also "creates a feeling of there/not-there," of views "from other realms."
Slonem has traveled widely, and the work on display at Rymer shows his love of specific locales. Writing in Pleasure Palaces: The Art and Homes of Hunt Slonem, Vincent Katz points out that "[his] art has been highly influenced (one wants to say 'excited') by periods and tendencies from other times and places." These include his childhood in Hawaii, as well as genres that range from impressionism to Islamic decorative art.
"Peace Plan With Butterflies" is a large rectangle, with a tan or dark cream background traversed by a repeating pattern of leaf-shaped doves. The canvas is further punctuated by butterflies (10 orange and five yellow), green vines, and, in the background, an abbreviated version of the "guardians" motif. The composition is like a wildly enthusiastic take on a wallpaper pattern. But it also includes touches of realism. When Slonem paints a butterfly, you can tell he has a particular species in mind. His orange butterflies are scored with black stripes, while the yellow ones are ornamented with a touch of black at their wingtips.
And at first glance, the spectator might miss these stylistic influences, absorbed in the image's beauty. As Herb Williams says of the work, "It's straightforward, but it's deceptively straightforward."
I just got done reading your article, and really enjoyed it, thank you. Here is…
I hope Bonnie and Clyde is better than Mob City, which was - as far…
The only website you can call directly is 1-800-FLOWERS.com.
Not the first time Mario Lopez has been snubbed (see Kapowski, Kelly).
I was all like "how do you get the phone number for TMZ?!?!" you can't…