It’s an intoxicating, maximalist environment that matches its maker’s deep drawl, big smile, and kaleidoscopically patterned button-down. And it’s only enhanced by an idiosyncratic soundtrack that wafts over the space: a mix of Billie Holiday, Slonem’s “Ave Maria” ringtone (which buzzes off the hook), and a chorus of chaotic squawking.
Slonem pauses as we approach a towering accumulation of cages, housing some 60 rescue birds, and rethinks the reason behind his obsession with the preening, winged creatures. “Well, it’s their intelligence and sense of independence, too,” he explains, as he strokes Neruda, a white umbrella cockatoo. “They’re not from this dimension. In so many religions, they’re messengers to the gods.”
Slonem’s encounter with Lincoln in the late 2000s marked his first time painting doves, but not painting birds. He’s been drawn to them for as long as he can remember; the first time he took a pet parakeet and rendered its likeness on paper was around age eight, when his family was stationed in Hawaii for his father’s navy job.
Knowing Slonem as he is now—a man who can’t live without a profusion of paint, pattern, music, flora and fauna, and eccentric friends surrounding him—it’s hard to imagine the artist as an Army brat. “I grew up in a world of polaris missiles and submarines and ship launchings,” he remembers, as we head past his birds and tanks of turtles into a white room chock-full of easels and paint—the studio’s inner sanctum. “But my grandfather painted and sent his work. So that’s what I clung to as a child.”