Hunt Slonem’s world is populated with birds, portrait busts, and gothic revival furniture. His studio juxtaposes an aviary, a plantation home from the antebellum south, and a salon-style gallery. Each room, like the Lincoln Room and the Rabbit Room, is a unique environment. And this is the down-sized version—a 15,000-square-foot Hell’s Kitchen space that supplanted an eighty-nine room (!) complex on Tenth Street. In fact, in addition to the birds, Slonem collects homes—two grand plantation houses in Louisiana, the 19th-century Cordt mansion in Kingston, N.Y. (recently sold, to focus on the plantations), and several others, each overflowing with antiques and objets d’art, as well as his own paintings. Slonem’s work is in the collections of over seventy-five museum, including the Metropolitan Museum and the Guggenheim, and he is represented by Marlborough Gallery in New York.
Slonem’s historic homes and antiques are a physical manifestation of his beliefs, which regard the past as very much alive. He constantly consults with psychics and counts the deceased 1920s spiritualist Xacha Obrenevitch among his closest advisors. Abraham Lincoln, who appears in numerous paintings by Slonem, sometimes visits the artist during his meditations. The repetition in Slonem’s paintings is not only an aesthetic, as it was for Warhol, but a form of spirituality, like a mantra. The effect is dizzying and not of this world.
In his studio, Slonem covers an enormous wall with small, square paintings of rabbits. His parrots and morpho butterflies appear behind a grid scratched into the oil paint. With the grid wedged between the birds and us, we have to ask: are we ogling the birds in their cages, or are they gazing into ours?