Hunt Slonem was born in Kittery, Maine in 1951; the eldest of four children. His father was a navy officer, while his mother was a homemaker who spent much of her time doing volunteer work. As a result of his father’s military career, Slonem spent much of his childhood on different military bases; living in Hawaii, Virginia, Louisiana, Connecticut, California and Washington. After completing school, which included living in Nicaragua as an exchange student at the age of 16, Slonem began his undergraduate studies at Vanderbilt University. He then spent six months of his sophomore year at the University of the Americas in San Andres Colula, Puebla, Mexico, eventually graduating with a Bachelors of Art in Painting and Art History from Tulane University in New Orleans.
During his collegiate years, Slonem attended the prestigious Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine, where he was exposed to influential artists from the New York area including Alex Katz, Alice Neel, Richard Estes, Jack Levine, Louise Nevelson and Al Held. This exposure played a pivotal role in Slonem’s artistic career, as it aided in his decision to move to New York in 1973. Three years after his arrival, Slonem received a painting grant from the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation in Montreal, Canada and began painting extensively. However, it was his time spent in Nicaragua that Slonem credits with most influencing and inspiring his work. The country’s tropical landscape has informed not only Slonem’s process, but also his need to be surrounded by the nature he paints; to this day he often works with a bird or two perched on his shoulder. Exotic birds also greatly inspire the artist’s work; he has a personal aviary, in which he keeps anywhere from 30 to 100 birds of various species at his Brooklyn-based studio.
As Slonem’s career progressed, he became an active participant in Manhattan’s burgeoning art scene, lauded not only for his artistic talent, but for his vibrant fashion sense. He was introduced to and befriended prominent figures within the artistic community including Sylvia Miles, Truman Capote, Liza Minelli, Monique van Vooren and Andy Warhol. In the early 1980s, Slonem began working on his critically acclaimed series of “bunny paintings” after discovering that he was born in the Year of the Rabbit, according to the Chinese zodiac calendar. He often repeats imagery in this series, as he finds the act to be similar to spiritual meditation. Slonem believes that “repetition is very important” and begins each day painting, treating each moment as one of profound meditation and channeling of God or a higher consciousness. To date, his bunny paintings remain a part of his morning ritual, as well as a pivotal theme in his artwork.
Slonem’s work is deeply rooted in the act of painting. His jarring color choices, spontaneous mark making and scratched hatch marks are the result of his ongoing fascination with the manipulation and implementation of paint. His paintings are layered with thick brushstrokes of vivid color, often cut into a cross-hatched pattern that adds texture to the overall surface of the painting. This surface patterning combines with the rich colors and recognizable subject matter to create paintings that are physically and aesthetically rich. Poet and critic John Asbury observed, “Slonem summons dazzling explosions of the variable life around us that need only to be looked at in order to spring into being.” For Slonem, cross-hatching has a feeling of a tapestry, stating “it’s like weaving. I’m making colors bleed into each other. I’m revealing the under-painting. I’m making these marks to allow the light to come through, basically. So you’re seeing about five levels of paint, instead of one.” It is this kind of devotion to the process that has prompted acclaimed Metropolitan Museum of Art curator, Henry Geldzahler to say that “Slonem is a painter, a painter’s painter with an enormous bag of technical tricks which become apparent to the viewer the longer he stands before the work.”
A prevalent and reoccurring theme in Slonem’s paintings is that of nature, especially the depiction of various species of exotic butterflies and tropical birds he discovered while living in Nicaragua. Slonem soon became well known for creating grisaille paintings of small birds in their cages. He often painted them wet-on-wet and grit off the surfaces to denote wire enclosures after the birds had been strategically placed. Art critic, Roberta Smith once wrote in The New York Times that Slonem’s “witty formalism strategy meshes the creatures into the picture plane and sometimes nearly obliterates them as images, but it also suspends and shrouds them in a dim, atmospheric light that is quite beautiful.” Birds also fill the surface of the artist’s largest project to-date; a 6-foot by 86-foot mural he painted for the iconic Bryant Park Grill in New York City.
Another reoccurring theme of Slonem’s pictorial work is portrait painting, and that of Abraham Lincoln in particular. As a spiritual sojourner who is always on the quest for soul freedom and the dispensing of fear, Slonem has long attributed much of his prolific output to his work with channels and psychics. During a session with a medium, the artist felt the spirit of Abraham Lincoln, who told him to paint doves for a series of works he then dubbed “Abraham’s Peace Plan.” Slonem has said that his portraits of Lincoln feel personal and in his own words, “I work with diviners and mystics and one of them started channeling Lincoln in my house. He guided me to paint certain things, like my doves; he wanted me to paint them as a symbol of freedom.”
Slonem is also renowned for his sculpture work, most notably the monumental “Tocos,” an 18-foot acrylic and aluminum tower of toucans. Slonem has also done large sculpture commissions of rabbits, butterflies and toucans in various spots in Southern Louisiana including “Bunny Hop,” “Butterflies” and “Macaw Habitat;” all located in Kenner, Louisiana.
The creative force also has an innate talent and passion for refurbishing homes. Considering this part of his art form, Slonem has rescued, refurbished and meticulously restored a number of estates including the historic Cordts Mansion in Upstate New York and his two Southern mansions in Louisiana; Albania and Lakeside. Enhancing them with his transcendent, light infused décor, Slonem paired vintage furniture with contemporary art, including many of his own works in addition to pieces by Alex Katz and Andy Warhol. Beyond its majestic beauty, The Lakeside Plantation captured Slonem’s fascination for history. Listed in the National Register of History Places in Louisiana, it was once owned by Marquis de La Fayette whose close relationship with lifelong friends such as Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Monroe, John Adams, and Robert Livingston played a pivotal role in the Louisiana Purchase. In a show of gratitude, the United States gave La Fayette the land, which is now known as Lakeside Plantation. When Slonem was young, he learned that Picasso collected chateaus, and since then always dreamed of doing something similar. Having reached that goal with these historic homes, Slonem would like for them to become part of his legacy, one day serving as study centers that can educate and inspire new generations of artists.
Slonem’s homes were the subject of an extraordinary 300 page, photography-based volume, When Art Meets Design (Assouline, 2014) A truly magical showcase of Slonem’s ability to create spectacular spaces, the book features vivid and expansive interior photography that reveals how he combines antiques, fabrics and artworks. When Art Meets Design includes a descriptive essay by Emily Eerdmans, an instructor in design history at the New York School of Interior Design and the interior design department at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Eerdmans is also a contributing editor for House Beautiful, and she has previously written books on Mario Buatta and Madeleine Castaing.
In addition to When Art Meets Design, Slonem’s work has been the subject of many other books over the course of his career including: Hunt Slonem: An Art Rich & Strange (Abrams Books, 2002), Pleasure Palaces: The Art and Homes of Hunt Slonem (powerHouse Books, 2007) and The Worlds of Hunt Slonem (Vendome Press, 2011). In March 2014, Slonem published, just in time for Easter, Bunnies (Glitterati, 2014), a luxurious, finely designed and crafted first collection of “bunny art” – an exciting, unexpected, impressionistic mega collection for adults and children alike. A treasury filled with enchanting full-color and black-and-white paintings, Bunnies features a forward by bestselling author, John Berendt (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil) and an essay by artist and gallerist, Bruce Helander. Berendt beautifully captures the magical springing to life of these rabbit figures when he writes, “Every morning, upon rising - even before he's had his first cup of coffee - Hunt Slonem performs his daily warm-ups. He approaches his worktable where a stack of small rectangular panels awaits. Some of the panels are made of wood, some of Masonite. In the course of the next half hour he will have populated all the panels with rabbits. These paintings are what he calls his warm-ups.”
In 2017, Slonem will publish two highly anticipated books: Birds (Glitterati, Spring 2017) and an untitled volume devoted to his monumental new mixed commercial/residential installation in Pennsylvania (Assouline, Fall 2017).
A tastemaker within the worlds of art, design and fashion, Slonem is often sought out by globally-renowned bands seeking innovative, artistic partnerships. In 2008, he was enlisted by Audi to create an exclusive design for its sleek new A5 coupe. The “Hunt Slonem Audi A5” was unveiled during the New York International Auto Show and then toured Audi dealerships across the U.S. before being auctioned off to benefit a cancer research charity. Ever-entrepreneurial, Slonem recently collaborated with esteemed designer, Jason Wu on a series of bunny-inspired prints, jacquards and knits for the new Grey Jason Wu label. Throughout his career, Slonem has also used his signature bunny art, along with his other artistic creations, to raise money for numerous charities, including cancer research – a cause close to his heart.
Since 1977, Slonem’s work has been the subject of more than 300 one man shows and over 250 group exhibitions in renowned galleries and museums across the globe. He has had one man shows in 200 different locations including the Fischbach Gallery in New York, Marlborough Gallery in New York, Stefanotti Gallery in New York, Instituto de Cultura Puertorriquena in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Exit Art Inc. in New York, Jason McCoy Inc. in New York, Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Brunswick, ME, Meredith Long Gallery in Houston, TX, Arreesa Gallery in Bombay, India, Academia & Museo Diocesano di Sant’Apollonia in Venice, Italy, KEIO, Shinjuku in Tokyo, Japan, Roanoke Museum of Fine Arts in Roanoke, VA, Robert McClain Gallery in Houston, TX, The Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, NY, Galleri Charlotte Lund in Stockholm, Sweden, Galeria Greca in Barcelona, Spain, Pulitzer Gallery in Amsterdam, Centro Cultural Recoleta in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Pensacola Museum of Art in Pensacola, FL, Evansville Museum of Art History & Science in Evansville, IN, Miriam Shiell Gallery in Toronto, Canada, Gallerie de Bellefeuille in Montreal, Canada, Museo de Arte de El Salvador in San Salvador, El Salvador, The Museum Gallery of Modern Art in Sofia, Bulgaria, The Museum Gallery of Foreign Art in Sofia, Bulgaria, Alexandria Museum in Alexandria, LA, New Gallery of Modern Art in Charlotte, NC, Polk Museum of Art in Lakeland, FL, Mabeyn Gallery at the Chamberlain House in Besiktas, Istanbul, Cuadro Fine Art in Dubai, UAE, The Flint Institute of the Arts in Flint, MI, The Moscow Museum of Art Sponsored By the Russian Imperial Academy of the Arts in Moscow, the Serge Sorokko Gallery in San Francisco, Shaw Center of the Arts, LSU in Baton Rouge, LA, DTR Modern in Boston and Galerie Von Stechow in Dusseldorf, Germany . Slonem also has over 25 solo exhibitions planned throughout 2017 including The Sultan Gallery in Kuwait, Martine Chaisson Gallery, State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg, Bulgarian National Gallery in Bulgaria, Budapest Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest, Krasnoyarsk Museum Center in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia and Galerie von Stechow in Frankfurt, Germany.
In 1976, Slonem received a Grant for Painting from the Elizabeth T. Greenshields Foundation in Montreal. In 1983, he received a Fellowship from the Ragdale Foundation in Lake Forest Illinois and was also awarded the MacDowell Fellowship in Peterborough, New Hampshire in 1983, 1984 and 1986. Slonem also received a painting grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1991. In 2007, Slonem was the honoree at the ARTrageous Children’s Expressions Project’s annual Gala Dinner and in 2009, he was the recipient of D&D’s Stars of Design’s Award in Art in New York. In 2013, Slonem received the Louisiana State Arts Council’s Inaugural Lifetime Cultural Achievement Award. That same year, Slonem also received The Horticultural Society of New York’s Award of Excellence. In 2015, Slonem was awarded the prestigious Medal of Merit; the Russian Academy of Art’s highest decoration since the 18th Century.
Slomen’s work can be found in the permanent collections of 250 museums, galleries, institutions and corporations worldwide. Within the U.S. these include the Alexandria Museum of Art in Alexandria, LA, Boca Raton Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Historical Society, The Children’s Hospital in New Orleans, the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum, the Flint Institute of Arts in Flint, MI, The Louisiana Art & Science Museum in Baton Rouge, Marsh & McLennan Companies, Inc. in New York, The Miro Foundation in Barcelona, Spain, The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, The National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., The New Museum in New York, The New Orleans Museum of Art, The New York Academy of Art, The New York Historical Society, The Polk Museum of Art in Lakeland, FL, The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Internationally, Slonem’s work can be found in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, the Bahrain National Museum in the UAE, The Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona, The Guilin Art Museum in China, The Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter in Hovikodden Norway, Joan Miró Foundation in Barcelona, The Metropolitan Museum of Manila in the Philippines, The Musée d’Art Haïtien in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, The Museo de Arte de el Salvador in El Salvador, Museum Würth in Künzelsau, Germany, the National Gallery of Foreign Art in Bulgaria, The Pulitzer Collection in Amsterdam and The Tel Aviva Museum of Art in Israel; to name a few. Additionally, Slonem’s work appears within private collections internationally, including those of many celebrities.
Slonem’s work has also appeared in a number of movies throughout his career including All the Kings Men, Slaves of New York, The Namesake, Broken City, Fading Gigolo and Misconduct.
In 2015, Slonem moved to a new 35,000 square foot studio in Sunset Park, Brooklyn where he continues to work. He lives in Manhattan, but travels frequently to his other homes in Louisiana, upstate New York and Scranton, Pennsylvania, where he is undertaking the transformation of the historic 150,000 square foot Watres Armory into a multidisciplinary showcase for his own work, as well as for his extensive collections of art and antique furniture.