Picture of the Week: Untitled (Cockatoo Monsoon) by Hunt Slonem

February 3, 2023

Untitled Cockatoo Monsoon, Hunt Slonem, 2016, oil on canvas, 30 x 30 in.

Hunt Slonem is a Neo-Expressionist American painter, sculptor, and printmaker. He is best known for his series of bunnies, butterflies, and tropical birds, along with large-scale sculptures and restorations of forgotten historic homes. Slonem was born in 1951 in Kittery, Maine. His father was a Navy officer, so his family frequently moved throughout his childhood; They moved to places such as Hawaii, California, and Connecticut. He continued to travel as a young adult, studying abroad in Nicaragua and Mexico; His art was in part inspired by the tropical landscapes in these countries. He first developed his love birds while living in Hawaii as a child, which deepened while he was in Central America, where he also felt inspired by people’s spiritual zeal and devotion. His interest in tropical birds persists in his adulthood, as he collects exotic birds in his New York studio. 

Slonem earned degrees in painting and art history from Tulane University in New Orleans. Following his graduation, he spent the early 1970s in Manhattan. In 1975, Janet Fish offered Slonem her studio for the summer, and he fully dedicated himself to his art career. His work was displayed throughout New York, leading him to become a notable figure in the city’s contemporary art scene. By 1977, Slonem had his first solo exhibition at the Fischbach Gallery. Since then, his artwork has been shown all over the world, including the Moscow Museum of Modern Art and the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg. To add, in 2017 and 2018, he was featured at the National Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the National Gallery in Bulgaria, and countless other galleries in the United States, Germany, and Dubai. His work is part of the permanent collections of 250 museums around the world, most notably the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Whitney, the Miro Foundation, and the New Orleans Museum of Art. Slonem is also the recipient of many prestigious grants, including from Montreal’s Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Cultural Counsel Foundation’s Artist Project, for which he painted an 80 foot mural of the World Trade Center in the 1970s. Moreover, he has won numerous awards, such as the Russian Academy of Art Medal of Merit in 2015, the Louisiana State Art Council Inaugural Lifetime Cultural Achievement Award in Baton Rouge in 2013, and the Urban Stages Award for Fine Art in New York City in 2006, among many others. 

Slonem is commonly known as a Neo-Expressionist artist. The first time the term Neo-Expressionism was used is unknown, but by 1982 this style was widely used in German, Italian, and eventually American art. Neo-Expressionism moved away from Conceptualism and Minimalism and instead promoted art that contained expressive brushstrokes, texture, intense color, and often a combination of figural and abstract forms. In terms of subject matter, Neo-Expressionism marked the return of romantic subjects. 

Slonem’s rendition of Neo-Expressionism is inspired by nature and his 60 pet birds. As noted previously, his pet birds reside in his New York studio, chirping and flying around him as he works, inspiring him to capture his immediate surroundings. He often embraces the ephemeral beauty of nature in his art, which produces a nurturing and spiritual effect. He also draws inspiration from history by highlighting accessible connections to the past in his art. Additionally, he takes some inspiration from German Expressionist artists like Ernst Ludwig and Emil Nolde. Poet and art critic John Ashbery describes Slonem’s work as “dazzling explosions of the variable life around us that need only to be looked at in order to spring into being.”

Slonem’s 2016 oil painting Untitled (Cockatoo Monsoon) demonstrates his use of Neo-Expressionism and appreciation for birds. He employs very thin, primarily vertical brushstrokes to mimic the form of a bird cage throughout the composition. These expressive brushstrokes are not perfectly straight, rather they appear to drip down the canvas, highlighting Slonem’s Neo-Expressionist style. He gives us an intimate view of a cockatoo cage, likely situated in his New York City studio. One cockatoo is perched in the upper left corner, while the other sits at the bottom right. Slonem balances out the space between the two cockatoos with an S-shaped curve in the middle of the space; Perhaps this form may actually be in the cage, or it could serve as an innovative way for Slonem to insert his signature into the work. In terms of color palette, he utilizes varying shades of blue, gold, white, and beige. While he does not use a wide array of colors, the ones that are present are eye-catching nonetheless. Blue and gold tend to be associated with royalty, so the use of these colors may suggest Slonem’s high regard for exotic birds. Cockatoos are typically white, however, Slonem has adorned these ones with streaks of blue feathers. This nuanced use of color may in turn illustrate Slonem’s extensive knowledge of exotic birds. Slonem gives the viewer a glimpse into life in his studio with this work by capturing the cockatoos as a source of artistic inspiration.

Written by Angela Athnasios

Sources: https://www.huntslonem.com/resume.


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