The Look that has Seen
Review of John Slavin Paintings 2019
By Rémi Mogenet
Translated by John Slavin
The formidable painter John Slavin puts his visceral art at the service of the spiritual world, and seeks to make a representation of it in forms drawn from his inner being.
I was struck by his ability to go beyond concept, to find his own intimate revelations, notably through new creations, where mysterious objects are born from the depths of his soul. He responds to a voice whispering within him which asks him to open the doors of mystery. He has illustrated the wonder tales of his compatriot Duncan Williamson, and tackled classical mythology, and Christian miracles. For instance, he shows Jesus in the arms of Mary surrounded by the children of Pan, benevolent fauns and a smiling angel.
And the Archangel Michael, superb in his armour, feet on the old pavements of Edinburgh, a giant surmounted by a winged angel, and in the background unusual visions in the streets of the Scottish capital city. I love this ability to place sublime beings in the modern city. It’s made to look easy, perhaps, thanks to a non-classical, almost popular style, refusing too sharp a line and referring to El Greco, for example, or Goya.
By renewing ancient tradition in this way John Slavin revives the feelings that it may once have aroused and changes meanings, making indistinct and imprecise the imposition of idea, maintaining a vagueness in which one is not imposed upon but in which one may experience – and experience in the very reality of what has been expressed. The Occult phenomenon which has been represented in ancient myth remains valid for the human soul.
I was particularly impressed by the picture of Prometheus, the Titan in the dark, holding the flame which glows with a fabulous liveliness.
Jupiter (or Zeus) weeps alone in his little flat in the streets of Edinburgh, holding his last little thunderbolt. It is a sublime image, evoking a fallen Olympus, to which no one sacrifices anymore, and recalls Malpertuis, the fantastic novel by Jean Ray.
The curious trinity depicted in the triple portrait of The Wild God, the Mad God and the God of Wine is a creation in which figures appear so vibrant with their own life that John Slavin seems to have personally seen them.
The scene of Odysseus visiting Circe has an especial strangeness because we seem to be offered, by a background figure which is a birdman, the key to the enigma, and yet it remains incomprehensible. Circe, in a perspective opening on to the infinite seems to have been born spontaneously and she has the face of an angel! a messenger!
I also love Leda, her four children in her arms with eggshells on their heads. She has eyes, made immense by the mysteries from beyond the veil. John Slavin has an incredible facility as a portraitist to paint ‘the look that has seen’.
Krishna advising Patroclus to sacrifice himself by attacking Hector is equally grand, and subtle in its allusions. John Slavin takes us into an obscure world from which arise flashes of occult meaning, always dizzying.
In the art of John Slavin thresholds lead to the place where man grows, by the sacred animality which is in him, by the dark energy which guides him in his dark night . . .