Our thoughts on art and inspiration

David Michael Slonim

Translating the essence of nature
May 12, 2018
Windhover, Oil On Canvas, 60"x36"
Windhover, Oil On Canvas, 60"x36"
David Michael Slonim hopes Altamira will become a calm visual oasis in the presence of Wavelength, his new exhibition opening May 21 and running through June 2. True to its title, this collection of new paintings explores the communicative potential of art—both in practice and in presentation—how art can translate the essence of nature.
 
Lately, David Michael Slonim has been reflecting on silence—the silence he feels in nature, the silence he finds in mundane moments, tugging the garbage bin down his long Indiana driveway at night. Silence both calm and quiet. Silence as a state of being.
 
“The same thing happens in the studio when I am painting away,” he says.“Thecolors start to harmonize, the paintings start to breathe. A calm settles over. It becomes a visual oasis.”
As Slonim hopes Altamira will become as well in the presence of Wavelength, his new exhibition opening May 21 and running through June 2. True to its title, this collection of new paintings explores the communicative potential of art—both in practice and in presentation—how art can translate the essence of nature.
 
An inveterate communicator himself, listening lies at the core of his process: he listens to his paintings, letting them guide their own orientation to nature’s rhythms and forms.“Tobecome good at painting requires increasing your listening skills more than your expressing skills,” he says.“It’smore important for me to become sensitive to what the canvas is saying, to listen to what my eyes are doing and my gut is telling me. Most of the time, a painting goes in a totally different direction and takes months if not years to complete.”
 
This attunement took decades to cultivate: As an art student at the Rhode Island School of Design, he remembers hearing his professors ask,“Whatis the painting actually trying to become?” Back then, such questions seemed to wash over him. Now—after decades spent as an illustrator and plein air painter—their words resonate as he lets the paintings themselves take the lead.“Inthe same way we live life by improvising conversations and interactions, I paint by improvising within a structure,” he says.“Eachstroke is a decision which leads to others.” Canvases live in his studio as long as they need to, talking to each other and the images of masterworks he tacks up on the walls(currentlyclippings of Degas and Wyeth). The silence that settles on each canvas represents a resolution, the visual answer to the series of turns it took to arrive at such peacefulness. “Olderlayers often show through more recent ones, similar to the way our personal histories affect who we are today,” he says.
 
His today as an abstract painter now consciously folds in influences from his past: the fine art prints his mother hung in the house (VanGogh, Calder, Picasso); the box kites he flew with his dad; the stained-glass windows he would stare at during Catholic mass; the Looney Tunes cartoons he’d watch on weekends. These lessons in color, shape, texture and line remerge now through patient play, as pervasive joy.
 
“The act of painting is inherently optimistic—a refusal to believe life is chaotic and meaningless. If harmony and order can exist on a canvas, then harmony and order are real, which means a good painting points toward hope.”
 
Hope is what he finds in the works of the abstract artists he admires—hope in the possibility of harnessing the fragmentary world that surrounds us into meaningful meditations. He cites his heroes—de Kooning, Diebenkorn, Rothko—and their ability to abstract their emotional responses to nature, to zoom in on a tangle of bushes and find harmony in form.
 
“I became an abstract painter by staring at nature and painting it for 25 years, gradually becoming fascinated by the structures and rhythms beneath surface appearances,” he says.“Nowinstead of painting what nature looks like, I paint what itfeels like.”
 
For more information on Wavelength, please contact Altamira Fine Art by email (connect@AltamiraArt.com)or phone(307-739-4700).

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