After six decades of painting, Sag Harbor artist David Slater is taking stock of all he’s accomplished and sharing some of the most profound moments from a life as storied and colorful as his canvases.
Opening this Saturday, April 11 at Peter Marcelle Project in Southampton, Slater’s new exhibition, Something Old, Something New, is a retrospective of sorts, featuring both new and vintage work from various points in his long career behind the easel.
“I really have a phobia about writing, but I wanted to share my life story and memory,” Slater says, explaining that this new show is his visual autobiography. “I call these my memoirs.”
All done in Slater’s inimitable style, mixing vibrant colors, cartoon-like figures, words, symbols, collage and found objects, the works on display are deeply personal to the artist while remaining totally accessible to the viewer. Each piece is as informed by Slater’s memories of actual events, as it is by his dreams and psychic visions, which are equally important and true to the painter. Like a Native American shaman, Slater says he keeps one foot grounded in the material world while allowing the other to remain firmly planted in the world of spirits, signs and prophecy.
Clearly, this connection to the mystic, mythic and magical is what excites and inspires Slater. It becomes quite clear when he describes his paintings and the memories from which they were born. When, for example, he shares the horror of seeing a man engulfed in flames at a factory, Slater also recalls how, years after the incident, he decided to paint the scene and then learned that a local man had burned to death the very same day.
In other paintings he recounts a profound astral projection experience, levitation, a vision of friend Toma Yovanovich as an Iranian general (at bottom of page), a dream about a tattered ghost ship in Sag Harbor, his second Saturn return and a series of enchanting, paranormal experiences in his backyard, to name a few.
“There is a ghost in my house,” Slater says of his 19th century home in Sag Harbor Village, adding, “My backyard is a very transcendental place.” The artist has painted several pieces inspired by his backyard, including one of a beautiful woman in a state of undress (illustrated above) and another of a mischievous young spirit along with the visiting hummingbirds and eagles that regularly fly overhead (below). “It’s a very spiritual place.”
This ability to find magic, adventure and romance in places or moments others might find mundane, coupled with his instinct for good color and composition, gives Slater’s work a unique power and point of view. He adds further depth by embracing his obsessive need to dive headfirst into each painting and research all aspects of every element within it.
The artist will read multiple books at once and completely devote himself to whichever painting is at hand. Slater often spends months working on one piece, delving into tangents of history, mythology, philosophy, numerology, theology, religion, science and the occult. Every word and symbol carries the weight that research, and the artist can speak to all of it. But even without Slater as a guide, without knowing exactly what it all means, the paintings’ never feel arbitrary. They can be enjoyed simply as they are, or the viewer could dive in after the artist and begin to connect the dots, follow the breadcrumbs and decode what he’s left behind.
This exhibition is David Slater’s fourth one-man show with Peter Marcelle, his exclusive dealer for the last decade. A portion of the proceeds from sales will benefit the Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum (sagharborwhalingmuseum.org) in support of its Capital Campaign efforts to restore the 1845 building.
Something Old, Something New runs April 10–26 with an opening reception on Saturday, April 11 from 6–8 p.m. at Peter Marcelle Project, 4 North Main Street, in Southampton. For more info, call 631-613-6170 or visit petermarcelleproject.com.