Born the son of an active Navy officer, Hunt Slonem (b. 1951) spent his childhood in Maine, Hawaii, Virginia, Connecticut, California, Washington State, and, as an exchange student, Nicaragua. Slonem studied at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, at the University of the Americas in Mexico, and at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in painting and art history from Newcomb Art Department, Tulane University in New Orleans. His time at Tulane instilled in him a love of Louisiana; today, Slonem owns several plantation homes in the state and visits regularly.
The travels of Slonem’s adolescence inspired a lifelong passion for collecting in the artist. When he lived in Hawaii, he would study the flora and fauna of the islands; in Nicaragua, he played hooky from school to collect butterflies in the jungle. Slonem collects many things, including neo-gothic furniture, top hats, fine art, and rescued exotic birds, which hold a special place in his collection. Slonem shares his home studio with the birds he cares for, spending two hours each morning preparing meals for his companions. At times, Slonem has cared for over one-hundred birds in his home. This favor of devotion is returned by the birds in the form of perpetual inspiration for the artist.
Spirituality underscores the subjects of Slonem’s paintings. Exotic animals, tropical butterflies, and spectacular birds represent souls or guardian angels, transcendent beings. These animals, which are quickly becoming extinct in the wild, are for the artist “a last look at these forms before they disappear, dissolving into pure energy.” Often, he paints his subjects as ghostly forms captured in the moment of dissolution, caught between heaven and Earth. The hatch marks he customarily scores across the surfaces of his paintings emphasize the psychological barrier between the viewer and the transcendent subject.
Hunt Slonem, Shanti, 1989. Oil on canvas, 72 x 84 inches. Gift of Henry and Pat Shane. Louisiana Art & Science Museum Collection, 2006.003.002
In 2004, LASM hosted Slonem’s first exhibition in Louisiana, Hunt Slonem: An Art Rich and Strange. This exhibition featured Slonem’s bunny series.