April 19th, 2022
This Easter season, we may all have bunnies, chicks, colored eggs, and family gatherings on the mind. For New York-based artist Hunt Slonem, however, bunnies are always on the mind. Hunt Slonem’s bunny paintings and bunny sculptures have gained him international acclaim, renowned for their balance of simplicity and sophistication.
You may have seen our Salon-style installations of Hunt Slonem’s bunny paintings in the gallery (the artist’s preferred way to hang his works together) or perhaps you’ve seen one of his glass bunny sculptures glimmering in the sunlight in our front window. Perhaps you, like us, find yourself magnetically drawn to these beautifully understated, iconic forms in his work.
We at Gallery MAR have been similarly drawn to these works, whether they be the diamond dust-infused bunny paintings encased in ornate, gilded frames or the sparkling light patterns of his new sculptural bunny work. The magnetic pull of these works leads us to wonder more about their origin and inspiration. So although our great curiosity over these bunny pieces feels well-timed with the Easter season, for Hunt Slonem “rabbits are always welcome.”
Hunt Slonem grew up in the concrete jungle of Brooklyn, NY – a far cry from the world of color and natural inspirations that now form his aesthetic. As a young man, early travel experiences began to shape his view of the world, from childhood trips to Hawaii to a foreign exchange program in Nicaragua.
It was through these formative experiences that Slonem was introduced to colorful new worlds of interest, of which he had never experienced before, from his first view of butterflies migrating in Nicaragua – a dizzying, magical carousel of color and lightness – to the brightly colored birds that filled the skies of Hawaii with their vibrancy and their song. These early encounters informed Slonem‘s lifelong love and appreciation for exoticism and further enriched his penchant for spirituality.
Spirituality has long played a role in Hunt Slonem‘s work, and its inescapable influence can be seen throughout every one of his pieces throughout his career. In the 1970s, Slonem began painting the figures of saints. It was in these paintings that his rabbits were first born. “I often put rabbits at the feet of the saints, for reasons I can’t even tell you (1),” Hunt Slonem says. Perhaps “something about luck and multiplicity (2),” Slonem muses.
Eventually these rabbit forms began to take center stage in his works. He began painting series of just rabbits when one day, at a Chinese restaurant, he looked down at the menu and discovered that he was born in the year of the rabbit. “I discovered that I’m the sign of the rabbit in the Chinese zodiac (1),” Slonem says, “So maybe they’re sort of all self-portraits (3).”
According to the Chinese zodiac calendar, “People born in the Year of the Rabbit are kind, virtuous and popular. They are artistic and have good taste, with a liking for the finer things in life (4).” This description certainly suits the artist and lends credence to his musings on subconscious self-portraiture.
Once this discovery was made, rabbits future consumed Slonem’s body of work. Like creatures stumbling out of wonderland, they fell daily from the artist’s hand into the worlds of his paintings. As Artsy describes, “The bunnies, rendered in almost childlike contour lines against solid color backgrounds, have multiplied throughout Slonem’s oeuvre, becoming one of his most famous symbols of innocence, luck, mythology, and nature.”
With these rabbit forms, Hunt Slonem masterly balances between playfulness and austerity – a feat he has developed through a lifetime’s practice of daily repetition. These repeated forms become like an exercise or a daily ritual for the artist. He finds himself painting from sunup to sundown, and rabbits make up much of this work – especially his morning “warm-up paintings.” As the author of Slonem’s book Bunnies, John Berendt, describes the process as “…the artistic equivalent of calisthenics in which he flexes his painting apparatus to establish control over the colors, shapes and textures that flow from his mind’s eye through his arm, hand, and brush on the painted surface (5).”
Slonem often compares the repetition in his work to praying on a rosary or saying a daily mantra. In one of our Zoom interviews with the artist, we discussed the intersection between repetition and spirituality, at which he held up the string of rosary beads he had been clutching throughout our conversation. “To me, the idea of repetition is like divinity (2),” Slonem explains.
Despite this repetition — or, arguably, because of it — each bunny painting and sculpture takes on a unique quality of delicate distinction. Slonem posits, “I also think that every time you do something, you do it a little better (2).”
This spring, as you watch the rabbits from your window scurrying through the garden or as you marvel at the bunny motif of your children’s Easter baskets, we hope that you, too, will think of the work of Hunt Slonem and his fresh, whimsical interpretations of these curious little creatures. May Slonem’s work fill you with a renewed appreciation of nature’s marvels and serve as reminders to keep your life colorful, whimsical, and simple. After all, as Hunt Slonem says, “sometimes the simplest thing that you do is the greatest thing that you do (1).”
Written by Veronica Vale
- Town and Country: Artist Hunt Slonem Brings a Vibrant Menagerie of Birds and Bunnies to Bergdorf Goodman
- PMC Magazine: The Hunt for Bunnies: Down the Rabbit Hole with Painter Hunt Slonem
- Artsy.net: Hunt Slonem Bunnies
- Victoria and Albert Museum: Chinese Zodiac: The Year of the Rabbit
- Bunnies by Hunt Slonem and John Berendt