Meet the Artist: Hunt SlonemWhere color meets Pop meets nature
We interrupt your regularly scheduled #ThingsToDoAtHome programming for a shot of sunshine and vibrant color—courtesy of artist Hunt Slonem. We dare you not to smile and find joy in his works, which are executed with great verve in his signature Pop style. Couldn't we all use more of this right now?
Slonem, a Maine native, is a fixture in the New York art scene and has been for decades; Truman Capote, Liza Minnelli and Andy Warhol were all part of his circle (Slonem was even an usher at Warhol's funeral). While his oeuvre takes its cues from a wide range of inspiration—travel, nature, history and art—he's best known for his bunny paintings, which launched in the Eighties to commemorate the Year of the Rabbit in the Chinese zodiac, his birth year. Collectors include Brooke Shields, Kate Hudson, Sharon Stone, Jennifer Lopez and Taylor Swift. Today, he still starts every work session painting a bunny and enthusiastically repeats it in endless variations. Slonem describes his process as a spiritual mantra and compares his color-layering technique to weaving a tapestry.
We chat with the legend himself and get a sneak peek at his massive art studio in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, where a splendid array of artwork, fanciful furniture, eclectic collectibles and live plants are positioned in carefully curated vignettes, including an iconic Bunny Wall. There's even an aviary on-site housing over 50 parrots. The industrial space is just one example of his Midas touch with interiors—Slonem is also passionate about historic homes and has purchased and restored several 19th-century estates and plantations.
How do you describe your art style?
I’m into maximalism, not minimalism. I say the more you have of something, the better it looks. I like layers and covered surfaces. I’m obsessed with nature. I’m also influenced by the energy of the fashion world. I am an artist, not an interior designer. I use every color available that is bright. I am a player with color. A friend described my style like this: He collects volume and color.
You had an art studio in Manhattan and now have one in Brooklyn. How are the spaces different?
I preferred Manhattan because I was able to see lots of people, go to lunches, run to see shows, etc. However, Brooklyn has more space (30,000 square feet!) and I am less interrupted. The isolation forces me to work more, which I enjoy.
How did you come up with your concept for the Bunny Wall?
When I was framing my work for a museum exhibition in Virginia, rather than pay for contemporary frames, I opted to purchase flea market frames. I use the 19th century frames to mimic the way portrait photographs are framed. Since I paint my “warm-ups” in 8 x 10 canvases (which I begin each day with painting exercises and chants or mantras), they fit perfectly into the frames. I then hang the framed paintings high and low salon-style on the wall and think of the wall as a single work of art instead of individual pieces. It becomes one thing and makes collecting the frames part of the art as well.
Most recent is my Huntopia solo show at the Taubman Museum in Roanoke, Virginia—with almost a dozen extravagant rooms filled with my art and antique collections. Other solo exhibitions I’ve done were Antebellum Pop at the LSU Museum of Art in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Eden Never Ends at the Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn, Long Island, New York. The Cincinnati Art Museum has forty of my bunny paintings.
Every museum inspires me, including the Frick Collection in New York. But, as I said, I am locked in my Brooklyn studio because of its location—a slave to my studio!
I look at a lot of things when I travel. I was just in Odessa, Kiev, Moscow and the Ukraine and saw phenomenal collections of Russian art.
I love them all equally. I have done a tremendous amount of restoration and made them into works of art. I change things inside constantly—objects, colors, etc. The armories probably are my most monumental efforts. For example, the Scranton Armory, built in 1897, is a whole city block and is filled with my early works, refurbished chandeliers, musical instruments, plants and period furniture. I’m currently working diligently on a site in Napoleonville, Louisiana, with a magnificent ballroom. I’m also on a 19th-century aquarium kick.