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Here’s Why Hunt Slonem Paints the Same Bunnies Over and Over

Hunt Slonem art exhibit show in Cabildo Museum

Artist Hunt Slonem is a critical and commercial success with close ties to Louisiana. The graduate of Tulane University calls Louisiana his second home when he’s not creating in his New York City studio.

Karen LeBlanc, aka The Design Tourist with Artist Hunt Slonem at the Cabildo Museum, New Orleans.
Karen LeBlanc, aka The Design Tourist with Artist Hunt Slonem at the Cabildo Museum, New Orleans.

The Man Behind the Bunnies, Bayous, and Birds

Hunt’s art brings Louisiana scenes and themes to a global audience through international art shows, galleries and collectors. As a longtime admirer of his work, especially his iconic bunny paintings, I wanted the inside story on why the bunny is both a muse and a frequent and favorite subject in Hunt’s work. I joined the artist for a tour of his retrospective exhibit at the Cabildo Museum in New Orleans as we talked about his storied and prolific career. 

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“Everything in this show is owned by people in Louisiana so it’s not only a survey of my work, but it’s also a survey of what’s been collected in the state. So that’s a very important fact to consider how much support I’ve had here and what a difference it’s made in my life,” says Hunt Slonem.

Portraits

“As a kid, I wanted to be an artist. I never wanted to do anything else,” Hunt says as we peruse more than 100 works hanging on the walls of the Cabildo Museum in the New Orleans French Quarter. 

Rabbit paintings of Hunt Slonem

Hunt grew up inspired by paintings his grandfather collected from Knute Heldner, a Swedish-American who belonged to a collective of 1920s New Orleans artists known as the “French Quarter School,” which catered to tourists interested in American history. “I’ve collected Knute’s work from auctions and he just inspired my work.”

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Hunt went to college at Tulane University in the early 1970s. “I’d always wanted to come to New Orleans and it was love at first sight when I arrived. Tulane offered such a wonderful range of subjects, including architecture. I studied one of the homes that I now own, MadeWood in Napoleanvile. Louisiana is such a beautiful state unlike any other state.”

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Hunt’s days at Tulane introduced him to Louisiana’s grand homes of the 18th and 19th centuries. He’s owned and refurbished three, including Albania in Jeanerette, built in 1842 for Charles Crevemberg on the banks of Bayou Teche. Hunt acquired and restored Lakeside Plantation in New Roads and Madewood in Napoleonville. “I like old interiors, high ceilings and a lot of detail.”

In 1974, Hunt established his studio in New York City after graduating from Tulane University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts.  He is a believer in mysticism and says he was born under the Chinese astrology sign of the rabbit, which became a recurring theme of his work and commercial success.

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Why Hunt Slonem Love Rabbits

“I started painting Christian Saints in the late seventies with animals associated with them, including rabbits.” Hunt displays his bunny paintings in antique frames, juxtaposing colorful whimsy grounded in history. “I could not swing contemporary frames. So I went to the flea market and found antique frames for most of the work. I started painting paintings for the frames, which were originally Victorian photo portrait frames.”

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Rabbit painting of Hunt Slonem

The bunnies are among Hunt’s most recognizable subjects, appearing in painting, sculpture, wallpaper, and fabric. Hunt renders his latest iterations of the rabbit in metallics, resins, and lightboxes.

Rabbit painting of Hunt Slonem

“Doing the rabbits became like calligraphy to me. I call these my studies, and I started singling things out of earlier paintings, such as the rabbit, and doing individual studies.”

Rabbit painting of Hunt Slonem

Hunt Slonem on Repetition

Hunt has a penchant for repetition, many of his subjects appear in multiples, including the bunnies.  I asked if this repetition possessed an underlying subtext. 

“There’s a whole logic to my repetition theory that comes from all divinity, which is a kind of repetition of such things as the rosary, the Mandala mantras, repeating things so that you become one with them. Painting in repetition is a form of prayer or worship for me.”

Rabbit painting of Hunt Slonem

Hunt’s easel stands in the exhibit covered in paint drippings from 35 years of crosshatching. The technique involves scraping off lines of paint with a fine brush, an idea he derived from working alongside large birdcages in his studio.

“For most of my 30 years in New York, I lived with a 40-foot birdcage, so I looked at everything through the grid. When I crosshatch, I like paint off of the painting.”

Rabbit painting of Hunt Slonem

Hunt’s crosshatched paintings are another unique signature, making his work instantly recognizable as Hunt Slonem. This is why he doesn’t sign the front of his paintings. “It’s great to have such a natural, uncalculated response to what I do. This is what keeps me going.”

Animals painting of Hunt Slonem

Hunt is a plant and bird lover and enjoys spending time cultivating the gardens of his historic properties, which inspired a lot of his painted imagery. He likes tulips, cattleyas, and morning glories. His landscape paintings focus on scenes along Louisiana’s Bayou Teche and Bayou Lafourche.

“One of my favorite things about Louisiana is live oaks and Spanish moss. The wild plants of Louisiana are very unique and completely memorable.”

Animals painting of Hunt Slonem

Hunt Slonem’s Louisiana Inspiration

Hunt Slonem is a painter, printmaker, sculptor, entrepreneur, educator, writer and, preservationist. Of all those roles, I asked which one most personifies him.  “I love painting. I can paint every day. I do five days a week, and that’s what sustains me because everything else is really harder. I want to focus on creating large-scale sculptures.  I’m at my best when I’m creating on a very large scale. I’ve done 100-foot paintings that have never been shown.”

Get to know the Louisiana artist, Hunt Slonem.

More Louisiana Posts For You:

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The Legacy of Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame & History Museum

Why is The Blue Dog Blue? Memories & Musings About Painter George Rodrigue

Picture of Karen LeBlanc

Karen LeBlanc

Karen LeBlanc is a freelance writer living in Orlando, Florida with many published bylines in magazines, newspapers, and multimedia sites. As a professional lifestyle writer, Karen specializes in art, architecture, design, home interiors and personality profiles. Karen is the writer, producer and host of the streaming series, The Design Tourist (www.TheDesignTourist.com) that brings viewers a global dose of design inspiration with episodes featuring the latest looks and trends from the world’s premiere design events and shows. She also publishes a quarterly magazine on design travel that you can read by clicking the link: https://thedesigntourist.com/the-magazine/ Her journalism background includes seven years on-air experience as a TV news reporter and anchor covering a range of issues from education to politics. Her educational credentials include a Master of Arts in Mass Communications from Northeast Louisiana University and a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Louisiana State University. Throughout her career, Karen has written and produced dozens of documentaries and videos for educational, commercial, corporate, and governmental clients and appeared in many TV and video productions as a professional host.

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Karen LeBlanc

Karen LeBlanc is a travel host and writer with a popular travel show, The Design Tourist, and a companion lifestyle blog. As a widely published travel journalist and content creator, Karen is a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association. She also serves as the Design and Travel editor of the national lifestyle magazine, LaPalme. Karen believes that every destination has a story to tell through its local art, architecture, culture, and craft. This immersive creative exploration begins with authentic accommodations where the narrative of place unfolds through art, accessories, accouterments, furnishings, fixtures, and food. 

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