THE PAINTER JOHN SLAVIN
24/11/2018 RÉMI MOGENET
[Review by Remi Mogenet in La Tribune de Genève 18 October 2018]
During a stay in Cathar country I met a strange Scottish painter who is settled there during the summers but returns to his own land in the winter. The name is John Slavin. I must have been guided to him by Providence because at his place I discovered a new series of paintings he had produced which for the first time in his career, contained human figures, symbols, spirits, little gods. These beings come from the tales of his compatriot Duncan Williamson. The vivacity of the forms and colours gave the work a profound originality, and the painter had lived what he had painted, he had traversed it through his ardent heart.
It is important to know that in order to depict the landscapes devoid of animated beings that have long been his subjects, John Slavin had strived to live fully there – sleeping outside, wandering in the mountains, disappearing from the face of the Earth, in order to immerse himself in form, to sink into the etheric, to penetrate the elemental world of his soul. Only then can he express the interiority of a country.
Yes. And the result is splendid. I am among those who believe we can represent the genii of place as human beings. We can even paint the fairies, so to speak. I believe in the marvellous, I believe in painting. When I arrived in the walled village where John Slavin lives in the summer, at the foot of the Pyrenees, he had just completed that series of paintings which placed in the landscapes the creatures from Duncan Williamson’s tales, and river gods, unicorns, spirits, sylphs – and an enigmatic lighthouse.
Photograph by Eddie Martin of John Slavin’s Creation of the Unicorn
I was struck when I saw in the extreme left of a painting [Creation of the Unicorn] a tower lit from the inside, rising above the sea, and in which appeared a black silhouette. The image was impressive. John Slavin told me that it was not in the tale he wanted to illustrate: the image was born from his depths, while he painted according to the intended idea. Suddenly, in the corner of the painting, this object appeared. Genius has detours. One exerts oneself on pre-existing myths, one meditates upon them then suddenly, automatic creation amazes. This tower seemed to sum up a destiny open to a sparkling world and reminded me of the best novels of Lovecraft. The tower was frightening and appalling, wonderful and miraculous, the ultimate door. Other singular places in John Slavin’s painting showed that suddenly he had seen. He created spirals of figures, and colours created a gap in space. Spiritual visions from between worlds were present. My enthusiasm overflowed when I saw, in one of his paintings, the god Odin go strangely through an industrial suburb. It conjured the cinema of David Lynch.
Photograph by Eddie Martin of John Slavin’s One-Eyed with the Ravens
And the artist read the same rare books that I had read. We shared E.R.Eddison and Lord Dunsany, whose tower in Ireland I had recently visited, whose books I had recently bought. And so it seemed that we were on the same page. How curious.
Remi Mogenet 16 October 2019