It says a lot about artist Hunt Slonem that his store is called the “Hop Up Shop.” A sense of whimsy and wonder, along with a fascination and deep love of nature, are fundamental to the work of the longtime painter and sculptor, who once said his life could be summed up with the word “exotica.” After a childhood spent living around the Americas, including Hawaii and time as an exchange student in Nicaragua, Slonem developed a love of wild animals, particularly birds and rabbits. These themes run throughout all the years of his work, which has ranged from small paintings to street murals and massive, joyful sculptures. We spoke with the artist about his inspirations, his daily process, and the subjects he’d love to paint next.
Vibrant and punchy colors can be seen throughout all your work. Where do you find inspiration for your color palettes?
Color is amongst us, in nature, fashion, color swatches. Historic interiors. Media. Even fruit markets & foreign travel. And of course, my birds!
What inspired your line of tabletop and accessories?
The Hop Up Shop is inspired by my art. It’s a réadaptation of my motifs and subject matter.
Who are the artists that have inspired you the most in your career?
Picasso for his château and his great art, of course. Warhol for his reputation and his collecting. I have so many influences that it is hard to think about where to begin or end.
What do you find most compelling about Chairish?
The vast selection of items — it’s like going to an antiques store but better! I love antique shopping!
What is your artistic process like?
I get up every day and start in front of my easels, or work on sculptures in my studio. I paint for long hours, unless I am traveling. Things have changed since the lockdown, of course — I spend most of my time in my studio with little interruptions and very little traveling.
Do you prefer painting on a large scale or on small canvases?
I prefer the bigger sizes. I’ve done several very large murals, one at the Bryant Park Grill. I had an 86-foot painting in the World Trade Center for the Port Authority as part of the Cultural Council Foundation Art Project. I’ve done 22-foot metal sculptures and over 50-foot murals for private collectors.
You’re well known for your work featuring bunnies and parrots, which I know take inspiration from your personal life. Is there any other subject matter (or another animal) that you’d like to paint a series of?
Turtles, frogs, ocelots, butterflies, bayous… saints, friends… to name a few.
You’ve incorporated diamond dust into some of your paintings. Do you enjoy working with any other unusual media?
Yes, very much. I work with metallic pigments and glass. Recently I’ve been painting on resins. I did a photography-derived mural of my bunny wall in Los Angeles (at 751 N Fairfax Ave).
Which comes first, the antique frame or the painting?
It’s about half and half. A lot of the frames are odd sizes, so I do paintings to fit them. A lot of them are 10 x 8, which work perfectly with my daily warm-up bunny paintings.
How do you approach designing art and homewares that are meant to be displayed in peoples’ homes? Anything you always aim to keep in mind?
I create from what comes out of me. I act on impulse with no partial goal in mind. Unless it is a commission or something specific. There is no thought on how it will look in a setting prior to it being in a setting. I paint what interests me.
You’re a collector of both living and inanimate things — birds, plants, historic houses, furniture. What are some of your favorite pieces in your personal collection?
My portrait collection, Sebrecht chairs, Mallard beds, shell collection… and my house collection!
Favorite decor piece in your home and why:
All my marble busts from the 18th and 19th centuries.
Favorite decorating cheap thrill:
Going to the flea market and finding great things.
Favorite paint color:
This week it’s magenta. But I also love ceraline blue.
Favorite hotel that’s most inspired your work while traveling:
The Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, 1961.
Favorite vacation destination:
Well, I don’t take vacations much (or ever). Most of my travels are career related. I’m fortunate to have shows in various places so I have a lot of interesting travel related to showing my work, from India to Argentina. I go to my homes in Louisiana, and there are usually projects I am working on in connection to those trips as well. I don’t really separate work and play. To me, work is fun.
Favorite small museum in the world:
Per Se in New York.
Favorite way to unwind at home:
Meditating and organizing my houses.
Favorite adult beverage:
Favorite entertaining essential:
Pigs in a blanket.
Favorite exhibition you saw in the last year:
Lead image by Kendall Finley Jacob Photography