Newport in the summer enjoys a gracious plenty of captivating visitors — last week it was designer and gardener Bunny Williams at the Newport Flower Show; this week it is celebrated artist Hunt Slonem for a showing at Jessica Hagen’s gallery (where the four paintings, above and below, take center stage).
Hunt is best known, one might say belovedly, for his Neo-Expressionist paintings of bunnies, butterflies and birds, some of which include diamond dust (below). But it is his singular style that so well suits his subject matter that have made him such an international favorite; that loose faux-naïve rendering is hard to resist. No wonder that he enjoys a wide representation in the museum world…over 100 including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim and The Whitney Museum of American Art (just to name those in New York City).
Fortunately for many of us, his paintings as a collection appear for the first time in a recent book, Bunnies, a treasury of enchanting works that are at once pop culture and fine art, in four-color and black-and-white. A lovely coincidence? Hunt and I share the same publisher, Glitterati.
So one more event was added to the calendar — a small, post-show supper at Parterre to honor a fellow author. Earlier that day, Hunt stopped by for a chat after arriving in Newport. Sitting on my bench, iced tea and southern cheese wafers on the side, I found his answers to the inevitable questions (i.e. why bunnies?) and observations to be as colorful and distinctive as his paintings.
Here is a man whom most, I included, knew only as a renowned artist spanning the last 40 years. But he is so much more. Everything comes in big numbers in his world, starting with a prodigious output of work (don’t miss his 86 foot mural at Bryant Park Grill) to the fifty plus birds (mostly parrots)living at his Brooklyn studio.
To include the superlatives: “Monumental and uplifting,” as the award noted at Hunt’s Moscow show at the Museum of Modern Art. His historic properties in the northeast and Louisiana that he has restored and decorated are almost as famous as his artworks (Hunt has spent a lifetime building eccentric collections, part of an affection for antiques that he satisfies seemingly daily). Every Sunday night and Monday morning he can be found at his 1873 home, Cordts Mansion, in Kingston, New York.
One whose life in anyone else’s hands could be described as chaotic, in Hunt’s world it is one of joy and a constant source of fascination. He glides through with an infectious kind of bemusement and interest in anyone and anything. Perhaps it is his painting style …waking early, he recites his mantras, a repetitive process that is its own form of meditation. And one which carries over into his painting style — “wet into wet,” as with frescoes, which requires a quick hand. Within half an hour, Hunt has captured a series of small paintings working quickly between each canvas. As he wisely notes, “in repetition, there is more of a chance to perfect.”
The interest in bunnies may have had a simple inspiration (when he learned that he was born in the Chinese Year of the Rabbit) but it has proven providential for him. The good luck associated with rabbits (ie. rabbit’s foot) seems to multiply daily for him (another thing in common with those furry creatures). Since the 80s, bunnies have been interjected throughout his varying genres — he says simply, “they cluster well,” a gestural charged with energy in his hands. But there is no doubt he is enthralled with bunnies, who “speak” to him through his healers. I’m taking notes!!
As he departed, having drawn a bunny with tall, unruly ears and love note on the golden page of his book, I marveled at this artist who had left me with so many thoughts. How fortunate that he would be returning for supper…
The next morning (having spent his few free minutes antiquing) he was off to Scranton, Pennsylvania to visit two more potential properties then to Rome for his birthday on July eighteenth.