John Slavin

Portfolio: Painting as Ecology

Appraisal by Monika Kostera

The following excerpt is from Professor Monika Kostera (Warsaw University), her new book Occupy Management (Oxford:  Routledge, 2014) pp 193-4.

'When I met him last winter, John told me his story of finding the right landscape to paint.  He is intuitively drawn towards a type of scenery and stays in it for some time to paint it.  As it happened, the journey is leading him to the South, perhaps because of the light and shadow.  In his view, light and shadow belong together, they are intertwined and cannot be separated.  To see it and to paint it is for him more than enough, he does not long for any cultural references or echoes of human civilization.  Shadows and light can best be enjoyed in nature, and recently it is the deeper tones and sharper contrasts he is interested in, rather than the greys of North Scotland, which fascinated him a few years ago.  His paintings of the Isle of Skye depict cliffs and mountains, the colours are foggy, dark, the greyscale dominating over some accents of green and blue, the lines firm but rounded. 

Moving Mists, Eilean a' Cheo shows the primordial power of the Earth, where the mountain protruding from the sea is still in movement, among the water and the black forest in the foreground, it is the moment of the birth of a mountain.  We see the moment from the point of view of the Earth:  millions of years, measured by the clock of the movement of tectonic plates, a rhythm beyond human imagination.  Loch na Beiste shows the rivalry of three elements:  rock, air and water, locked in a battle for dominance, entangled in a brotherly but lethal embrace.  They are, perhaps, fighting for Gaia's attention, at heart not all that much concerned about power for and by itself, but they know that the mightiest of them will win her interest. The North Atlantic Island Skies shows a scene where the mountains and the water are seemingly at peace, but this is just a moment of dreaming, the cliffs look as if they were purring, caressed by the white clouds, leaning over them from a blue sky.  Upmost there is a suggestion of menace, a presentiment of the violent awakening that is awaiting the sleeping landscape.

John Slavin's southern landscapes show another face of Gaia.  Here she is more of an indulgent mother, she seems to be smiling at her offspring playing in the sun.  The colours are lively and bright, vibrant yellows, reds and oranges springing out from the frames, entwined with deep greens and blues, with very active contrasts and intense lines.  The Road to Montsegur has a mountain as its main scene, happily allowing trees and moss to play in its lap.  Only the way it holds its back against the sky shows how powerful it really is, an old giant secure in its skin.  Bugarach from the Devil's Armchair is about chestnut trees, with the mount Bugarach visible in the distance, through their entangled branches.  Their pulse is so much more rapid than the mountain's they must appear to it as a bunch of rowdy children.  There is, however, an aura of infinite patience emanating frm the wizened cliff.  Not that it in any way is able to mitigate the mischievous trees:  they are losing themselves in the game they are playing, one excluding everyone else outside.  Autumn Rain River Salz portrays a vibrant river, cascading through a hilly landscape, among trees and bushes that seem to be longing to get in tune with her.  Out of the shadows there radiates a desire, maybe to fuse with her, maybe just to grasp and hold her.  In the distance a mountain lives at its own pace, it could not care less for the tomfoolery of the young ones.

The paintings convey an understanding of Nature, her energies, rhythms and moods more than any other artworks I have encountered, they seem to spring from a profound link between the Earth and the artist.  As John himself has written, "I feel I am open enough to channel the harmonious universality of nature through brush work.  My surname 'Slavin' is probably of Old Irish origin denoting sliabh, a mountain.  Without a doubt, the splendid stature and magnificent bearing of the Scottish Highlands, home of my ancestors, finds heartfelt expression in the core of my work."'