Lincoln Is Hunt Slonem’s Marilyn

Published December 13, 2011

To see Hunt Slonem’s latest exhibition, “Acadian Dreams” is to be transported to the lush, humid American past, where a series of intimate portraits of Abraham Lincoln do not feel entirely out of place. “Acadian Dreams,” a show of dreamy, brushy landscapes that opens tomorrow at Marlborough 57th Street in New York, also makes surprising reference to Warhol. “I was influenced by Warhol’s repetition of soup cans and Marilyn,” says Slonem of the new paintings. “But I’m more interested in doing it in the sense of prayer, with repetition… It’s really a form of worship.”

Slonem worships different deities than Warhol. He’s drawn to the exotic birds, butterflies, and swamplands of the American South. “I would say my whole life could be summed up by the word ‘exotica,'” says Slonem, who owns two magnificent antebellum homes in the South and an aviary with some 30 parrots, some doves, and various macaws and cockatoos. Slonem’s birds are the stars of his dreamy, crosshatched, nearly abstract canvases.

Another star of the show is Abraham Lincoln. Slonem is interested in history and memorabilia, and that fact that the “larger-than-life” Lincoln is a catchall. In Slonem’s words: “On Marilyn [Monroe]’s desk, she had a picture of her mother and a picture of Lincoln. And she said, ‘I really didn’t know who my father was, so it might as well be Abraham Lincoln.'” Slonem’s portraits of Lincoln feel personal, and in suprising ways, he’s close to the long-deceased. “I work with diviners and mystics, and one of them started channeling Lincoln in my house,” says Slonem. “[Lincoln] guided me to paint certain things, like my doves: he wanted me to paint them as a symbol of freedom.”

Slonem, who also keeps a home in New York City, waxes romantic about the bayou landscape. “I get weepy when I think about all of that, and the culture that’s come out of it, and Gone With the Wind... such an enchanting American image,” said Slonem. “But I’m not ready to go sit under the tree for the rest of my life.”

“Acadian Dreams” is on view Dec. 14–Jan. 7. A reception at the gallery takes place tomorrow, 6–8 pm. A book signing at the gallery for the new monograph The Worlds of Hunt Slonem by Dominique Nahas, takes place Dec. 17Above: Striped Abe, 2011, oil on wood. Courtesy Marlborough Gallery.