M A G I C
Painting well is a small feat of magic, like pulling a rabbit out of a hat. The difference between stage magicians and artists is stage magicians are in on the trick. Artists don’t really know how the rabbit got there.
It's not that creative people don’t know what they’re doing. The better the artist, the greater the mastery. But in moments of candor, artists have always acknowledged that something else enters in, something surprising even to them.
Robert Frost put it simply, “No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”
I’ve heard novelists, screenwriters, and famous musicians speak of the work taking on a life of its own. Painters will say, (if things went well), that the canvas seemed to paint itself.
Beginning with nothing, we push inert material, giving it form, until presto!—the spark of life—the sudden thrill—a rabbit out of nowhere.
To choose to paint is to choose an uncertain path promising certain anxiety. There’s no guarantee that any given canvas will work. Or of finding an appreciative audience, or making sales, or even of being understood and taken seriously.
Is it worth it? Yes, and for one reason.
The flash of real magic.
- David Michael Slonim
H O L D I N G U P T H E S U N
Exhibition Catalog Essay, 2019
David Michael Slonim folds influences from his past into his abstract paintings. Reflecting on his latest series at Altamira, he traces three imprints from childhood: the stained-glass windows he studied during Catholic mass; the box kites he flew with his dad; and the PlayPlax interlocking squares he constructed into towers. Each an experiment in light playing over planes of color.
These early lessons in line, palette and texture remerge now through patient experimentation, as pervasive joy. “The act of painting is inherently optimistic—a refusal to believe life is chaotic and meaningless,” he says. “If harmony and order can exist on a canvas, then harmony and order can exist in life, which means a good painting points toward hope.”
His paintings do more than point toward hope; they uphold it. As the exhibit title suggests, Slonim is meditating on structure in his latest work, the ways in which attending to line and light can make communion between painter and viewer possible. In Slonim's childhood home, these feelings were evoked when standing in front of the prints by Picasso and van Gogh or beneath the Calder replica that his mother had placed around their home. Never directing her son toward abstraction, she let him live admidst modern masterpeices, slowly and cumulatively coming to his own aesthetic. He listened to those works, as he does now to his own, letting the paintings guide their orientation to nature’s rhythms.
In the presence of resolved paintings, Slonim finds a solace not unlike the spiritual experience of basking in rays refracted through stained-glass. “Paintings are one of the ways in which we reach for meaning and find our way in the universe,” he says. “I’m trying to express something beyond the senses. It’s a little miracle every time.”
- Altamira Fine Art, Scottsdale, AZ