Amidst the earthy charm of Scranton, Pennsylvania, sits the Colonel Louis Watres Armory, a turreted building from 1900 that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The state was soon to sell the property had it not been for Hunt Slonem, the Neo-Expressionist painter with a passion for turning projects around. Slonem, whose paintings hang at the Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian, has redesigned the space as a personal museum, bedecking it with colors, paintings, antique
furniture and decoratives.
His latest book, Gatekeeper: World of Folly, published by Assouline, brings readers inside this glorious building, with each page of this hefty tome a feast for the eyes. Read on to find out more about the enchanting space, Slonem’s tips for ‘collectorating’ (collecting and decorating), and what appeals to him the most about the UAE.
Why do you draw inspiration from natural iconography and Abraham Lincoln?
I have always drawn inspiration from nature and the human spirit. I cannot think of anything else more
inspiring. Spirit where Lincoln comes in—he was a great human being and changer of mankind. Progression is about being a spiritually evolved person and I have felt uplifted and inspired by his works my entire life.
How would you describe your creative sensibilities?
I would use the word ‘exotic’ to sum up my sensibilities, something that is not a part of the world I live in. My work offers a closer look at nature through my experience of living around many birds and orchid plants, and going for butterfly viewings. I call it ‘looking through the veil of reality’—it is about discovering new forms and looking at things we live with in a different way. I love it when, say, a new species of monkey is suddenly discovered in Brazil, although people have lived around them forever. So, my body of work gives a last look at what nature has provided for us and discovers what is beneath the surface of our existence.
What’s the idea behind Gatekeeper: World of Folly and the title of the book? How would you describe the art
Gatekeeper: World of Folly is literally about being the ‘gatekeeper’ of the building, which would not have lasted much longer if we had not done what we did. It is a great architectural statement and on a scale that one rarely gets to work with. My selection of antiques and the décor is about salvaging pieces from other periods of time, often rebuilding and re-fabricating them. So, I am putting a world back together that had fallen apart and left us for a 100 years or more, and I probably did it with more color and flair than would have been done originally.
How do you think your creative sensibilities are attuned to the UAE?
I am very thrilled when I am in the UAE. I am fascinated by the call to prayer, the styles of architecture, and the uniquely modern buildings. I have never been anywhere else in the world where everything is so well-planned and clean, and you have such great buildings—the Burj Khalifa, tallest in the world… Everything is so new yet so aligned to the ancient cultures that thrive there. You have the Louvre Abu Dhabi—that was really exciting to see, but my favorite thing is the call to prayer.
Can you share a few tips on how to fuse art and design to create a tasteful space?
My feeling is that you should look at pictures of all historic design over the centuries and pick and choose from what you like in them. There are such interesting colors from many periods in history—everything should not be white, in my opinion. I am free of the whole beige syndrome that has surfaced in the last few years of design. I like to bring together cultures, antiques and modern pieces. I like to mix the indoors and outdoors and love the idea of the conservatory, where you bring plants and perhaps animals into the home. So, I like to create a rich, colorful setting, but taste is certainly established by studying styles from different periods and cultures.