Discovering a cabinet of curiosities

Discovering a cabinet of curiosities

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Discovering a cabinet of curiosities

Hunt Slonem is also famous for his New York studio, where he currently lives with 40 to 50 birds. Birds have a symbolic meaning for him.

As an artist Hunt Slonem draws tropical scenes of birds, gardens, and flowers, depicting a magical place that survives in daily life. Some people ask Slonem, “How can you live in New York and draw nature?” His answer is simple: He creates his own world, as a magical escape.

Visiting Istanbul for his current exhibition at the Mabeyn Gallery, Slonem is discovering the city. He says the sound of the azan, the antiques, and the historical sites have inspired him a lot. This is Slonem’s first visit to Istanbul, and he has found it very exotic and inspiring. He has especially enjoyed the Basilica Cistern and Topkapı Palace, as well as the jewelry. His exhibition, “Pillow Game II,” once again features the signature birds, flowers and tropical scenes of his magical world. 

Slonem’s work combines abstract expressionism and representational imagery. He is best known for his paintings of tropical birds, based on his personal aviary, in which he keeps about 100 live birds of various species, which act as his models. His fascination with exotica can be traced to his experiences as a child in Hawaii and as a foreign exchange student in Managua, Nicaragua.

“My journeys have inspired me a lot. I was an exchange student in Hawaii. I used to skip school and go to the jungle to draw,” he said in an interview.

Slonem is also famous for his New York studio, where he currently lives with 40 to 50 birds. Birds have a symbolic meaning for Slonem. “They are spiritual animals,” he said. They signify the human spirit, according to Slonem, who feels that his birds symbolize the soul and spiritual liberation. Frequent trips to India have nurtured the artist’s spirituality, and his work depicts his reverence for exotic life forms, including birds, which he believes are one of the greatest treasures of the earth, which 60 million years of uninterrupted evolution have created in the rain forest. As many of these birds are now extinct, Slonem’s images of them are a plea to the viewer to look at these creatures before they disappear from the planet. As poet and critic John Ashbery observed in Hunt’s Place, “From the narrow confines of his grids, half cage, half perch, Slonem summons dazzling explosions of the variable life around us that needs only to be looked at in order to spring into being.”

Slonem is also a great fan of 19th-century furniture. “I do not say decoration,” Slonem says, “it’s historic recreation. … I am recreating other times through furniture.” As an artist Slonem adores Orientalist paintings. “I collect things from Ottoman times, including furniture, and I have seen many things here.” Slonem says Turkey is a little expensive in terms of antiquing. “In America, antiques are not appreciated much, so it’s not as expensive as it is here.”

Slonem’s studio is like a cabinet of curiosities. He values and collects things that are now extinct. “It is a part of my art,” he says, adding that all artists collect, and citing the collections of Gilbert and George, and Andy Warhol. A cabinet of curiosities is an apt description of his studio, according to Slonem. “Many things have become extinct,” Slonem says, including nature, which is why he is happy to give birds a home. “I don’t buy birds; people give them to me as pets. I provide them with a home.”

The main inspiration for Slonem’s tropical world is his birds. His house and studio reflect his lifestyle.

Although his painting style has changed a lot since 1984, Slonem is still fascinated with birds and the mystical world of jungles. His show at Mabeyn Gallery is open through April 27.