Hunt Slonem is known for paintings of tropical birds, monkeys, and portraits of famous and historical figures; in his current solo exhibition at Madison Gallery, the artist presents a new body of work, featuring one particular furry subjects: rabbits. Titled “Bunnies,” the show features oil paintings executed in the simple, gestural style typical of Slonem’s work; in their muted palette, these also constitute a marked departure from his best-known work, which is recognized for its rich surface textures, bright colors, and all-over compositional style.
Slonem has said, “I like color next to color next to color.” He’s famous for his collection of birds, turtles, monkeys, and other pets, and for his enthusiastic Neo-Expressionist painting style. The bunny paintings are part of Slonem’s daily artistic routine, a kind of drawing exercise done as an in-studio warm-up. In them, one can see the trained relationship between the artist’s hand and eye. And one can also detect the personality of each animal, a feature that Slonem feels obliged to accurately depict. The subject of Untitled CS0572 (2011), is a little shy and sly, its head bowed as it eyes the viewer.
Like many artists, Slonem mines recurring images and continuously discovers new possibilities within them. His pensive hand and muted palette in the bunny paintings are reminiscent of the work of Giorgio Morandi, whose meditative still lifes of bottles, pitchers, and plates reveal the objects’ psychological associations, not unlike the narrative and emotional vibrancy that Slonem finds in his rabbits. In some works, such as Untitled CHL0290 (2013), Slonem layers or repeats the rabbits—to almost abstract effect.
Many of the paintings are framed in unique vintage frames selected by the artist. Rather than relying on tricks or stylized or routinized brush marks, the artist approaches each subject afresh and inquisitively. Some, such as the black-and-sienna-on-orange Untitled CS0344 (2012), are rendered in quick, sweeping strokes and incised marks. Others, like Theodore CS1129 (2009), are slowly built up with hesitant daubs that accumulate into a rich portrait.
“Hunt Slonem: Bunnies” is on view at Madison Gallery, La Jolla, California, Aug. 23rd–Sept. 23rd, 2014.