I first saw J.R. Slattum’s work about 4 or 5 years ago and have been fascinated by it ever since. Someone had brought one of his prints to a 3 day party and I spent quite of a bit of time examining it. My gaze returned to the image over and over; I looked at it up close and from across the room. The impression it gave me was that it was inspired and completely authentic. The work communicated something essential to me. I got a chance to ask J.R. some questions recently and the result provides insight into his history and his process.
Note: If you like the art, museum quality prints are available at very reasonable prices. Please support the artist. All images in this interview are courtesy of J.R. and are copyrighted.
Daniel: Give us a little background. How long have you been doing art, were your formally educated for it, and is painting your preferred medium or just what you show in public?
J.R. : From a very young age, I was artistically inclined. In school, I was always doodling, especially in the margins of my paper. I hit a dark patch in my teenage years and quit doing art. Looking back, I was lost. It wasn’t until a near-death experience at 24 that I realized I should be pursuing what I loved. I went out and bought paint supplies and just went for it. If you’re passionate about something, then you’ll learn everything about it. Self-educated via internet resources and a few good books. I’m in love with the entire process, from mindless doodling to refining and composition, color studies, and finally painting the vision. It’s funny because I am very ADHD, but I think it’s the complexity of oil-painting that keeps me hooked… each piece is a different puzzle… you can never master it.
Daniel: I saw one of your pieces on an altar at a party and had a strong affinity for it. Do people generally react strongly to your work – one way or the other?
J.R. : Part of the reason I love showing my work at the Portland Saturday Market is being able to connect with viewers directly.. It’s always fun. Reactions are usually strong and on the entire spectrum. There’s a lot of curious minds that like to engage the work and ask,”what’s going on in here?” There’s also people that think it’s creepy or that I must be crazy… I like messing with those guys. It’s nice when someone who’s never been into art, walks away into art… that’s my favorite.
Daniel: Do you consider your work visionary art and, what do think of that term in general?
J.R. :I think any good piece of art is visionary and free. The term “visionary” has become about a particular aesthetic or subject (usually associated with sacred geometry or portraits of deities), versus the inner transformation the artist goes through in the conjuring of the work paired with the inner reaction the viewer experiences by engaging the art. It feels like the former can rob a young artist of the latter. Trying to put something that’s meant to be free into a classification can be dangerous. I just do what I do and it is what it is.
Daniel: A lot of your paintings seem to have a glow to them; the piece that I first saw (Food of the Gods) was almost emitting it’s own light. Can you comment on this?
J.R. : It feels good to become transfixed on a beautiful glow. But it’s more than just aesthetic contrast… it’s more about conceptual contrast. The dark makes the light stronger and the light makes the dark deeper. Balance. It’s in a dark room that we can appreciate the often-overlooked pinhole of light. We generally repress darkness, but it feeds and festers in those dark corners. Shine a light on it and appreciate it, maybe the darkness will learn to love?
Daniel: What was your motivation to dedicate a piece to Terrence Mckenna?
J.R. : Anyone who knows of Terrence Mckenna knows the answer! His creative free-thinking is an inspiration. It was through his guidance that I decided to experiment with psychedelics. Via psychedelics, I feel that I’ve had some spiritual/emotional/intellectual growth in my life philosophy. Ode to the shroom and ode to McKenna for introducing us.
Daniel: Some pieces seemed to be named for various entheogens. How have these medicines factored into your evolution as an artist and directly into the production of various pieces?
J.R. : I always say, “Happy artist, happy art.” Entheogens are good medicine for the soul, a nice way to remove the static. Just like meditation, eating healthy and exercise. I find entheogens more useful in smaller doses but more regularly. Rather than paint the trip, there’s usually an insight or lesson that emerges weeks later. So they indirectly bubble into the art, organically. There’s been a few pieces that pay direct homage to a particular entheogen as a thank you.
Daniel: In some of the pieces with humanoid heads there seems to be a sort of anonymity; you don’t always complete a face with all the normal characteristics of eyes, nose, cheeks, etc. What is that communicating?
J.R. : Anonymity is nobody and it’s also everybody. I feel like it provides a pathway for the viewer to empathize with the work… a clear channel, versus saying, “hey, that’s not me.” The faceless also creates that initial surge, “why is this the way it is?” That gets dialogue flowing. These beings are what feelings and thoughts look like. They are forms of consciousness. Pure. We’ve been externalized and materialized as a culture. The face is the mask. The ego is also a mask. These are inner beings.
Daniel: I notice a number of pieces that incorporate a theme around the heart. What’s going on there?
J.R. : Heart can be following one’s calling. It can be giving rather than taking. You, others, rather than me. Sometimes it’s binary. Waves. Contrast.
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