‘Returns to Maine: New Works by Hunt Slonem” at Elizabeth Moss Galleries in Falmouth (through Feb. 6, 2021) might better be called “Hunt Slonem: Birds, Bunnies and Butterflies.”
The exotic and entertaining show of some 20 colorful and varied paintings, most presented in antique frames, is at once charming and serious, cartoonish and spiritual, running to simple images of parrots, rabbits, butterflies, and flowers articulated over rich, complex surfaces, scratched, troweled and occasionally enlivened with diamond dust.
Did I mention that Hunt Slonem is a colorful character? I think the last show of his I reviewed was at Colby College Museum of Art in 1997. Called “Exotica,” the Colby show re-introduced Slonem to Maine, where he was born in Kittery in 1951 while his Navy officer father was stationed there. Slonem left Maine as an infant, lived all over the country, studied at Vanderbilt and Tulane, and then returned to Maine for the first time in 1972 to attend the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. He has been a fixture on the New York art scene ever since.
In New York, Slonem maintains a loft in Manhattan and a studio in Brooklyn, but even two Gotham haunts can’t contain his life and art. He raises parrots and orchids, and collects antiques – a collection so vast that it requires its own 102,000-square-foot armory in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Slonem also owns a mansion in Scranton, three Louisiana plantations, a Hudson River Valley mansion, and a fox-hunting estate in the Catskills. I mention all this only to emphasize that the artist behind the sometimes goofy bunnies is a man of substance.
Although Slonem early on became known for living with and painting parrots, it is his bunnies, which began as wild creatures at the feet of saints in his religious paintings, that have become his totem animals. Because of the outlined manner of Slonem’s shorthand rabbits, the bunnies that come first to mind are cartoon animals such as Bugs Bunny, maybe even Jeff Koons’ balloon bunnies, but Slonem also evokes everything from the Easter Bunny to the Playboy Bunny, and Albrecht Durer’s young hare to Harvey.
A Slonem bunny can be as stark and striking as a black outline on an acid yellow ground in an oval frame or as complex as five or six bunnies crouched on a textured surface of green, blue, orange, and gold paint. Some of the most materially interesting paintings in the show, however, are oil, acrylic, and resin paintings of butterflies, the transparent resin creating a smooth, shiny surface with a paint background beneath and butterflies on top.
For more conventional tastes, Slonem also offers thickly impastoed floral compositions of orchids and irises. Slonem’s paintings range in price from $5,000 to $33,000.
The art and homes of Slonem have been cataloged in a series of lavish coffee table books. Be sure to check out the Bunnies book when you visit Elizabeth Moss Galleries.
Lots to see. Lots to like. Lots of fun.
Edgar Allen Beem has been writing about Maine’s cultural life since 1978.