Some people spend most of their life searching for that one true passion that makes them eager to get out of bed in the morning. Many will have decades-long careers before choosing to prioritize that one small activity that brings them endless joy. This week’s January 21, 2022 Dan’s Papers — and inaugural Dan’s Papers Palm Beach — cover artist Hunt Slonem never questioned what path his life would take. His passion for art was clear early on, and he followed it to success and fulfillment.
“I would be in a state of complete unhappiness if I wasn’t working and doing what I’m doing. I can’t think of anything else that brings me joy,” Slonem says. “It’s all I ever wanted to do – I was never conflicted.”
With an unconventional childhood due, in part, to his father’s military service, Slonem grew up in Hawaii, Virginia, Connecticut, California and Washington, and he even spent several months of his time in high school as an exchange student in Nicaragua. There, he developed his fascination with observing birds that led to many pet toucans, parrots and lories in order to study them up close. Birds became one of three consistently recurring muses throughout his art – alongside rabbits and moths/butterflies, both of which he kept as childhood pets – which feature in not only his large-scale paintings, but also in his daily ritual paintings, such as this week’s cover art, “Red Seer.”
“I do a group of works on a theme, often they’re rabbits, not as often they’re birds. It’s part of my ritual of painting in my studio every day,” he explains, adding that once done, he finds antique photo frames to properly display each 10-by-8-foot, oil-on-wood piece in the set. “These are really about gestural warmup and color play, and part of my meditation, in a way.”
“Red Seer,” in particular, is a wet-on-wet painting of a red lory reminiscent of the birds that have accompanied Slonem in his studio for many years. “I’ve watched them as I paint every day, and they’re great companions,” he says. “They’re very mystical, and ‘seer’ is a wonderful term that just popped into my head to describe the bird.”
Out of all his muses, Slonem may be best known for his rabbit paintings, both grand compositions and simplified portraits, which have grown in numbers exponentially throughout his career. Born in 1951 under the sign of the rabbit in the Chinese zodiac, Slonem feels a strong connection to the creature that “has a voice – a strong one,” he explains.
“It’s really resonated in my life in all kinds of new forms of my work that are coming through,” Slonem says of this symbol of luck, fertility and animal rights. “It’s just a profound image that’s not taken as seriously as it could be.”
With these new forms, many of which he first experimented with soon after COVID-19 hit the U.S., Slonem’s rabbits, birds and other creatures have been forged in bronze, glass, neon, diamond dust and within light boxes. Throughout 2022, he hopes to expand on the passionate creation and well-edited exhibition of these new forms and his iconic paintings. In addition, he plans to tackle watercolor again after abandoning the medium 30 years ago, debut a new show at the Botanical Gardens and work on a follow-up to 2021 art book Hunt Slonem: The Bigger Picture, authored by Ted Vassilev, owner of the DTR Modern galleries.
The book and select works by Slonem are on sale through DTR Modern, with locations in Palm Beach and New York City. Additionally, his designs are available on pillows, dinnerware, bedding and facemasks through his hopup.shop website.
Painting in New York since the 1970s, Slonem has been featured in hundreds of exhibitions across the globe – including in Canada, India, Norway, Haiti and Argentina – and in the permanent collections of prestigious galleries and museums such as the Guggenheim, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art. He was also commissioned to create a large mural for the former World Trade Center.
“Art is my vehicle for seeing the world, and there’s nothing else that makes me more satisfied,” he says.
As early as his first job in Manhattan, teaching senior citizens how to paint, Slonem has been using art to brighten up the lives of others. Countless paintings have been donated or loaned to organizations such as the Children’s Hospital of New Orleans, Children’s Museum of Naples, Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, New Jewish Home, Saint Agatha’s Children’s Home and Carilion Children’s Clinic.
“Healing is one of the things that means the most to me – uplifting others through the work,” Slonem says, adding that as he shares art of the creatures most dear to him, he hopes it will also heal people’s perception of nature as something worth protecting. “I hope I’m making some kind of an impact on people considering nature and how vital it is to our wellbeing – to the beauty and strength of our existence.”
While nothing reaches the level of enjoyment from creating art, Slonem admits that he also does enjoy collecting art, as his grandfather did before him, filling his homes – such as Searles Castle in Massachusetts and Scranton Armory in Pennsylvania – with art from galleries great and niche.
Ultimately, it’s the simple act of creating art that Slonem is most passionate about, and that’s what makes him an ideal choice for the first-ever issue of Dan’s Papers Palm Beach. “I’m thrilled that this is happening in Palm Beach – it’s one of my favorite places in the universe,” he says.
“I’m just sitting here, thanking the universe for the blessing of being able to paint every day,” he continues. “I pray to keep going forever and ever – I love what I’m doing and hope other people enjoy it.”
To see more of Slonem’s work, visit dtrmodern.com and huntslonem.com.