John Slavin Art

Portfolio: 10. The Sacred River ran

The Sutton Gallery, 18a Dundas Street, Edinburgh EH3 6HZ:  Press Release 25th January 2014

New body of work sees Edinburgh artist John Slavin draw inspiration from Ancient Chinese painting; a Creative Scotland Talent Development Project

The Sutton Gallery is proud to present a new exhibition of oils and ink drawings by the Edinburgh-based artist John Slavin (b. 1956).  Over the course of the last five years, John Slavin has emerged as one of Scotland’s most distinctive landscape painters, exploring both Scottish and continental subjects in often vivid and dramatically-coloured oil paintings.

At the heart of many of his landscapes have been mountains, rivers, brooks and streams, such as the rugged wilderness environments of Skye and the French Pyrenees.  Enjoying great success with these works, Slavin has received praise from Roger Cox in The Scotsman and has exhibited them around the country including in Durham University, the Royal Scottish Academy and the midlands within the last year.

His newest body of work takes water as its focus, exploring in an ever more abstract style the dynamic forms of water:  from pools to waterfalls to currents.  These works see Slavin communing with some of the greatest painters of water:  the painters of the Ancient Chinese Song Dynasty, including Guo Xi (1020- c.1090).

‘Water, of course, is one of the most perplexing of subjects for an artist and Slavin takes the lead from his Ancient Chinese forebears and focuses on capturing its essence and spirit rather than depicting it in a purely realist fashion; it’s a great privilege to be able to show these innovative and poetic works at The Sutton Gallery;  -- Colin Herd, Co-director of The Sutton Gallery

One of the key differences between Chinese and Western painting is to be found in the employment of the ‘floating perspective’ in Chinese painting.  In this series of ink drawings and oil paintings, Slavin explores this device in a way that allows the viewer to seemingly experience multiple spatial perspectives at once, which allows a fuller and more liberated depiction of his subject matter.

Slavin studied at Edinburgh College of Art from 1975-1980 under the tutelage of Peploe, Blackadder and Philipson.  This training has enabled Slavin to make sketch en plein air and within the specific environment that he’s depicting; he skilfully merges the poeticism of inner perception with the atmospheres of the natural environment:

‘As an artist my capacity for perception has been increased by the arduous conditions of my sojourns.  I have enjoyed sheer good luck and am at an age where my academic training is second nature and the sights I see seem already meaningful forms of inner experience.  The creative powers in man equal those found in nature.’  John Slavin.


River River Giver of Love


Where is containment for water which passes?

Is it cradled in the hand; where skin itself, like sunlight filled with person,

Engraved with experience, must be contained?

The most ancient names are on river tongue

They are ours but who are we

Where are we going

If we ourselves are made to be described in passing.


Waters sound on spirit spirals

Fairy dancers spin out snow

Spiral the stair of the River below

Sad fall of leaf on wave armoured heart.


River colours winter-metal molten-dragon.

Your mind unfreezes myth, your gestures cast off self.

Whose all-face is unrecognisable.

Whose features change, return, distort.

Whose ecstasy is unbearable.

Whose grief is eternal.

Teeth as soft as water, tongue dissolved

Snow leaf thorn drop, cannot stay upon

Cannot catch the hem.


Mind's eye heart's well

Cannot visualize cannot fill anew

That which heaven flooded.


The river bites its own back, the river veils its tears, the river laughs,

Bites off its nose with teeth of water to speed its race.

The river pulls into its bosom root and rock, eats up the day

And clawing down a piece of hillside leaves the sky salt sugar gray.


Proceeding like a bride to banquet in a gown of silver mist

You eat time till stars of ocean shine and time eats you.

Years have drowned in gesture's ritual.

Quick crest, course step into flux.

Hypnotic waves, magnetic flash,

Coming going downward glances turn about.


Bronze and brass and copper character.

Lines remember what you tell.

You inspire me my glass coffin, humble ambition, my regards.


Blood becomes cold, breath becomes water,

Tumbling life roars out.

Frosty lava, clot-splashing the truth.

Carrier of creation, transport of love,

River of love, river river giver of love

Flow through me, flow through me,

River of love flow through me.