Walking off the street at the blasted heath end of West 10th Street into Hunt Slonem’s studio space (if one can call 89 rooms a studio space) was a bit like that moment in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy and the gang step into glorious Technicolor, and it’s slightly unsettling. Walking through each room is like walking through a painting, which is indeed closest to what the rooms are because Hunt Slonem does not really separate his rooms and houses – he owns several—from his artwork. He talked to us about some aspects of his spirituality and ‘twirling into other realms’ as he so poetically puts it, and, even if you don’t believe in the spirit world, his answers give a sense of his rich inner life, the imagination that informs his paintings. He’s a friendly man with no need to impress or to ‘charm’, always a relief, really, who loves animals and paints in the company of his many parrots and parakeets, all housed within the room where he works—the only white room in the place.
Please don’t change. We love what you are wearing … painters seem to have earned their paint-spattered clothes.
[laughs] Well the shoes came from Target [he pronounces it the‘French’ way]
So you’re not a snob in any way.
About what? When you have 89 rooms to fill, your level of snobbery dwindles.
What keeps you going, filling up place after place?
I think it’s sort of my art form. When we did my recent show, we brought in furniture and pictures and we had a painting I did of Lincoln, next to a 19th century painting of a mulatto plantation owner next to a table full of candles, next to Miss Emily Sears’ dress and a big gold frame and real vibe was created. Sam Miller from the Newark Museum visited me upstate he said ‘This house has been waiting 120 years for your paintings.’
Let’s talk about the way houses speak to you. You said earlier about one of the rooms [a room that used to be fullof computers] being full of creepy energy …
That’s just machine energy. Machines kind of scare me.
Do you get scared being alone here?
No, never. I’m very blessed that I don’t. And I work very hard on having clearings done, clearing after clearing, just to make the energy better and better, to get rid of residues, unhappy earlier things that might have happened.
Is all this color here to banish sadness?
It helps, yeah. And these colors were used in the 18th century, they were used in the 19th century. We grew up in the 1950s and everything was white or pale blue. I was so thrilled when I went to Bermuda and I saw purple houses.
Everything you do seems to be an exercise in pushing away melancholy. Do you have a melancholic side?
I think we all do. It’s like any kind of spiritual progress, it’s a constant struggle. The more you attain, the harder the lessons become. I say mantras when I make those little marks … everyday has its little meanderings.
If you can’t stand someone, what qualities don’t you like? What gets your back up?
What gets my back up? Well there’s so many people that just need to be, you know, leader of the pack, and in charge … and you just pay homage. There’s no interaction really. But eventually they break down I find. In my life they have. Eventually you grow to like them.
It’s clear that you love animals. What do you think animals teach us?
What do they teach us? I think they’re here to comfort us, and it’s amazing though in my work with different psychics and mystics and stuff, they actually do speak and have voices. They are here to help us.
I can never reconcile loving animals and eating meat, it’s a hard one for me.
Well, they’d eat you!
Were you confident as a young painter or were you frightened?
Not making it.
I’m still terrified! What are you talking about? [laughing] No, I’m kidding. I always wanted to paint, I just didn’t realize that there was an ‘art world’ that was so ferocious. I had this fantasy about Picasso, that he just bought all these castles and filled them up and locked the door and then went on to the next fabulous chateau.
Well, you’ve kind of done that.
That was my role model. That’s the only artist whose had a life … well, that’s not true, there’s Dali and Giverny [Claude Monet’s house] … I’d love to be able to do gardens next.
What do you do when you go to your house upstate?
When I go, I go on Saturday and really just work with my healer for four, five hours …
What say ‘work with your healer’ what do you do?
Well I don’t know that there’s names for all these things. That’s what I love about this Sanskrit language because there’s words that actually describe everything … there are no English language words …
Well the English language is inadequate when it comes to expressing emotion.
Or spirituality. Well, what we [he and his healer] do is go into other realms. This house is very special. The whole house comes to life. We talk to the Sirens in the Hudson … and there are angelic processions. I was told to paint the house with angels. Actually several people told me that. And then I did some and they said ‘No, you need five angels.’ I don’t know … I don’t know how much of this we should put in … [points to the tape recorder]
I don’t think you can be an artist without having some sense of transcendence …
It’s not very popular. One of my catalogues started out by saying ‘In an age when ecstasy and bliss are considered a rarity and often considered an embarrassment …’ that my work had a lot of that. And I don’t think people see it in my work. My paintings are really about other dimensions. Those who see, see.
Well, like your bird paintings, they’re marks rather than birds … they could be birds …
Right. But it doesn’t really matter what they are.
You’re saying that people don’t really get that.
They don’t want to. It’s all about cutting up cows and pissing on Christ … [starts to giggle] I shouldn’t say that …
You do have a huge respect for the past.
Well I think there’s a lot to be learned from it. I’ve always been told that I sort of prefer to look in the wrong direction. [starts to laugh again].