Hunt Slonem is one of the most well-known and illustrious artists of our time. He is instantly recognizable for his iconic bunnies, yet there is so much more to this fascinating gentleman. This week we will be diving into the life and times of Hunt Slonem in a three-part series. Today we will explore his past and how it has led him to become the phenomenon he is today. We will also enjoy examples of his art, fabrics, and wallpapers, as featured in some of the loveliest homes across the globe. On Wednesday, The Glam Pad will feature an interview with the artist, and Friday we will conclude with an overview of the many historic homes and buildings Hunt has purchased and restored over the years.
Internationally acclaimed, Hunt Slonem has had over 300 one-man shows in galleries and museums worldwide. His work is also in the permanent collections of 250 museums including the Guggenheim, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney, and the Miro Foundation. His bold color combinations, distinctive painting style, whimsical and historic subjects are as full of charm and allure as the artist himself. Best known for his neo-expressionist series of bunnies, butterflies, tropical birds, and Abraham Lincoln, Slonem is also passionate about restoring forgotten historic homes.
It has been said that Hunt Slonem is the Andy Warhol of our time, and in fact, an early connection with Warhol helped inspire his career (more about that on Wednesday). Today that inspiration can be seen through Slonem’s use of repetition, similar to the repetition seen in Warhol’s series of soup cans and Marilyn Monroe.
Slonem draws great inspiration from history, forging tangible connections to the past through his art. This can be seen in his admiration for Abraham Lincoln, the antique frames he incorporates with his paintings, and of course, through his mission to save America’s often forgotten historic buildings. Slonem shares a deep metaphysical connection with Lincoln, his muse, whom he refers to as his “Marilyn.”
As the child of a Navy officer, Slonem moved frequently around the country during his formative years. His fascination with vivid color combinations and tropical landscapes began when his father was stationed in Hawaii and would continue to develop as a young adult studying abroad in Nicaragua and Mexico. After graduating with a degree in painting and art history from Tulane University, Slonem moved to New York where he was introduced to prominent figures in the city’s art scene. It wasn’t long before his career began to skyrocket. He received several prestigious grants from organizations including Montreal’s Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Cultural Counsel Foundation’s Artist Project.
In the 1970s, Slonem began incorporating bunnies into his saint paintings, and in the 1980s he began working on a new series of “rabbit paintings.” The inspiration for his bunnies came to him after he had discovered that the year of his birth, 1951, was the Year of the Rabbit in the Chinese zodiac calendar. This theme continued to inspire Slonem over the years, evolving into what is now an instantly recognizable, iconic status symbol. Slonem’s bunnies have become so popular in recent years that in 2015 he collaborated with Lee Jofa to create a series of rabbit-themed prints, thus joining the ranks of fine artists who have designed wallpapers – including Albrecht Dürer and Andy Warhol – and allowing the opportunity for anyone charmed by his delightful bunnies to affordably bring them into their homes.
Hunt Slonem for Lee Jofa Groundworks
Other collaborations have included a line of tableware for Tiffany & Co. and a custom–painted A5 sedan for Audi. Most recently, Slonem has opened a “Hop Up Shop” (online and via Bergdorf Goodman) where his iconic subjects are featured on a lovely assortment of tabletop, housewares, fashion, and accessories.
Today, Slonem works from a 30,000-square-foot-loft in New York City that he shares with his 60 exotic pet birds, an endless abundance of his enchanting paintings and sculptures, mounds of antique furniture, porcelain, and frames, and a menagerie of “clutter” including a collection of old top hats – all of which he considers essential to inspiring his creative process. Slonem has fashioned similar environments within the historic homes he owns.
Realizing too many of the country’s architectural gems have fallen into disrepair, Slonem has found himself drawn to these national landmarks, inspired by the depth of their age and old-world beauty. Among his accomplishments are the restorations of Cordt’s Mansion in Kingston, New York; the Lakeside and Albania mansions of Louisiana; and the Scranton Armory and Charles Sumner Woolworth’s mansion in Scranton, Pennsylvania. His sixth and latest endeavor is Belle Terre, a storied property in South Kortright, New York.
“When I was young, I learned that Picasso collected chateaus, and I dreamed of doing something like that my whole life. Having reached that goal with these historic homes, I would like them to become part of my legacy, where people use them as study centers that can educate and inspire new generations of artists,” Slonem explains.
“Hunt lives in a kind of modernized antique world… One that is both contemporary and a throwback to the aesthetic movement of the late 19th century,” says Timothy Tew, owner of TEW Galleries in Atlanta. “The aesthetic movement, or what was also called the cult of beauty, believed that art should be beautiful, evoke sensual pleasure, and create mood and atmosphere. The artists also believed that art should be hung in the right setting, and they opted for interiors that were sumptuous and decorative.”
Tew eloquently summarizes the phenomenon of Hunt Slonem, “Once in a while, an artist comes along who blurs the lines and shakes up how things are being done. Andy Warhol comes immediately to mind, but so does Hunt Slonem,” said Tew. “Few of us will ever become artists, and even fewer will go on to become important. But only one has brushed, layered, and textured paint into awe-inspiring images of bunnies, birds, butterflies, flowers, landscapes, and figures for more than four decades to international acclaim.”
Numerous books and monographs have chronicled Slonem’s art, including Bunnies (Glitterari Inc., 2014), Birds (Glitterati Inc., 2017) and Hunt Slonem: An Art Rich and Strange (Harry N. Abrams, 2002). His studios and homes have been profiled in such books as When Art Meets Design (Assouline Publishing, 2014) and Pleasure Palaces: The Art and Homes of Hunt Slonem (powerHouse Books, 2007), among others. His latest is Gatekeeper: World of Folly (Assouline Publishing), showcasing his reclamation of the Scranton Armory, and its transition “from arms to art.”
Of course, Slonem’s artwork is a feast for the eyes, but it is also an excellent investment. “Art collecting is certainly a lifelong experience. For younger or newer collectors, knowing they’re investing in a piece of art that they will have for the rest of their lives is important,” Mariam Diehl, owner of Diehl Gallery in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, told The Glam Pad’s executive editor Lacelliese King. “They would do well to consider collecting an artist, like Slonem, who is known, is in numerous museum collections, and whose work will retain its value. He’s a living artist whose investment costs still continue to rise.” In fact, a price increase of Slonem’s work has been announced and will take effect April 1.
Truly a fascinating and inspirational man! Please check back on Wednesday to read my interview with the legendary Hunt Slonem, and on Friday to learn more about his collection of historic homes. If you are interested in purchasing one of Slonem’s paintings or sculptures, you may visit huntslonem.com, and there is also a wonderful assortment available through 1stDibs. I particularly love his bunnies in the antique frames he personally selects. His passion for merging the old with the new speaks dearly to my heart!