Studio Visit Book Vol. 1

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Exploring Myth, Math, and Science in Deb Slowey’s Immersive Paintings

Deb Slowey

Deb Slowey’s captivating paintings immerse the viewer in narratives inspired by myths, legends, and timeless moments, all set within imagined spaces that are deeply rooted in mathematical principles and scientific theories. The Fibonacci sequence, Golden Ratio, Phi, and Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity all intricately intertwine to shape her remarkable creations, transporting audiences through the realms of the past and future.
Currently residing and working in Florida’s Tampa Bay region, Deb Slowey received her education in painting from the prestigious Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, honed her understanding of aesthetics at the Barnes Foundation School of Art, and refined her printmaking skills at Bob Blackburn’s PMW. For nearly twenty years, Slowey was mentored by the esteemed Will Barnet while living and working in New York City’s Chelsea neighbourhood. Throughout her distinguished career, Slowey has held solo exhibitions at renowned galleries, including the Chuck Levitan Gallery in New York and The Stone House Museum in Hasbrouck, NY. Additionally, her work has been selected for inclusion in prestigious permanent collections, such as the US Embassy in Paris, France; The Printmaking Workshop Collection in New York; St. Mary’s College in Maryland; Parana Curitiba in Brazil; and many other notable institutions.

Join us in conversation as the artist Deb Slowey tells us how she uses mathematical principles and scientific theories in creating her artwork,her share of learnings of being mentored by the ‘Will Barnet‘, sharing bits about her latest artwork and how she finds inspiration in India’s rich heritage.

When My Father Died, 2023
Oil on canvas collage
60 x 48 x 2 in

1. Deb, you have done some captivating work. Can you elaborate on ‘mathematical principles and scientific theories’?

Art, for me, transcends mere aesthetics. It is my heartfelt form of communication—a declaration of my profound existence amidst human vulnerabilities, amplified through the expression of my unique artistic voice that has been able to speak in the moments that my life had its journey.

In my artistic development spanning 35 years, I have embraced the profound beauty of the Fibonacci sequence—an expression of progression and regression that underlies the very essence of growth and decay. This sequence serves as the fundamental building blocks of life, permeating the natural world in awe-inspiring ways. From the graceful spirals of seashells and the captivating arrangement of sunflower seeds to the elegant branching of trees and even the majestic pyramids of Egypt, the Fibonacci sequence unveils a mesmerizing mathematical pattern.

Through my artistic practice with mathematical composition, I delve into the captivating concept of time and its intriguing nature. Instead of perceiving time as fleeting, I am captivated by its essence—the way it unfolds in intricate patterns and holds a sense of ever-evolving variety. Time becomes a subject of profound interest, encompassing infinite possibilities for exploration.

In my paintings, I incorporate the Fibonacci sequence and its graphic representation, the logarithmic spiral, to evoke a deep appreciation for the captivating rhythms and harmonies that exist within the fabric of time itself. This exploration invites viewers to contemplate the interplay between art, mathematics, and the enigmatic nature of existence. It is a journey that merges the realms of creativity, scientific inquiry, and the eternal essence of time.

2. Deb, you had the privilege of being mentored by the esteemed Will Barnet. Would you share your experience or your learnings with our readers?

It’s quite interesting that I find myself answering a question about Will Barnet today, as it coincides with his birthday. I deeply miss my dear former father-in-law, who was not only an art professor but also my lifelong art companion. Though he may no longer be with us physically, his spirit lives on, as we shared a profound connection. His artistic talents were recognized internationally, earning him both the National Medal of Arts and the French insignia of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters. However, these accolades extended beyond his artwork; these honours were given also because he was a treasured skilled educator.

While I had the privilege of being taught by Will at PAFA, it was during my time living in Manhattan in the 80s and 90s I experienced tremendous growth in my artistic education under his incredible guidance. Through our relationship, I not only met fascinating individuals in the art world but also received mentorship that shaped me into the best version of myself. It’s remarkable how a master educator like Will continued to invest in his students long after their formal schooling. Art is a vast realm, and learning it is a lifelong pursuit.

A declaration of my profound existence amidst human vulnerabilities, amplified through the expression of my unique artistic voice that has been able to speak in the moments that my life had its journey.

I could easily name-drop a myriad of renowned artists whom Will advised (though I won’t, of course). He possessed the ability to discern an artist’s strengths and gently guide them toward areas that required more attention. As my artwork and techniques matured, he helped me understand how they fit into the contemporary art scene and contributed to the overall narrative of art. Will had an exceptional talent for pinpointing the aspects of my work that truly impressed me. I vividly remember the time in 2012 when I brought a substantial collection of paintings from my new home in Florida for what would be our final critique at his residence in the National Arts Club. Before bidding me farewell with a kiss, he earnestly said, “Debbie, you know what you’re doing… now go find yourself a gallery to represent you.”

Elements, Still Life, 2020.
oil on canvas
12 x 24 inches

3. Your artwork ‘Still Life’ is quite fascinating and realistic. Among all the other elements, would you share what significance the Snake has?

The snake holds dual symbolism, representing rebirth through its shedding of skin and my personal connection to the field of medicine. Currently, I work as a part-time registered nurse specializing in surgery, while pursuing my passion for art as my central focus. During the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic, I decided to make myself vulnerable and enrolled in a couple of classes on the subject of realism. Although I was confident in composition, the class presented a unique challenge of bringing a list of objects, provided by the instructor into a still life, one of which had to be from nature; I wanted an animal.

In search of inspiration, I ventured into nature and stumbled upon a captivating snake skin. Incorporating it into my painting, I aimed to make the snakeskin appear as vibrant and lively as an actual snake. Despite the absence of a tongue, it spoke to me during the time we were together. I handled it with extreme care not only because of its physically delicate condition but out of a true respect for life and the life it once had. I am not afraid to celebrate the snake. Its usual pedestrian connotations did help achieve in my picture a counterpoint to the sweetness of pearls, ribbons and butterflies. I find the snake fascinating that they are in so many religions and legends too. Though challenging, I found a degree of success in achieving the goal of realism. Moreover, the experience taught me valuable lessons in the magic of art. The dead lifeless body of a snake can come to life again when being contemplated as deeply as one does when calling it to be part of the story of an art painting process.

4. I noticed some of your creations also include Hindu Gods and Goddesses. What is your inspiration behind these works?

I have a deep appreciation for all cultures, and India’s rich heritage is particularly fascinating. However, it has unfortunately not received enough recognition or exposure in Western society. Whenever I delve into images and information about Indian culture, I experience a childlike sense of wonder, as if I’m discovering a whole new world filled with fresh and captivating ideas of beauty. Animals hold a significant place in Indian culture, and as an avid animal enthusiast, their presence has also influenced my paintings throughout my career.

One aspect that intrigues me is the mathematical ideals found in various art forms, which are, of course, universally appreciated, but the unique expressions in Indian culture are particularly captivating. During my teenage years, I actively engaged in yoga and meditation, and I often find myself longing to participate in those practices again. Unfortunately, I struggle to find the same resources and opportunities that were available to me in the ’70s, a time when India’s influence was rising due to the cultural interest sparked by the Beatles and the lingering effects of the ’60s.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CWlyOZplsES/

A recent trip to New York left a lasting impression on me, as I had the opportunity to immerse myself in the Indian section of the museum. The abundance of new sculptures depicting gods and goddesses showcased the depth and beauty of Indian art. I was struck by the explicit depictions of Indian lovers, which might make Westerners blush due to the Christian taboos surrounding Renaissance art. It is intriguing to observe that Indian art didn’t face such limitations, allowing their works to be profoundly moving and exceptionally beautiful in my eyes.

deb slowey
Through The Looking Glass, Alice 2023 Oil on genie canvas with mixed media 40 x 60 inches

5. Deb your recent series, ‘Alice through the looking glass’. Can you elaborate on this series and the Cheshire Cat?

After exploring Aesop’s Fables in my art, I found myself returning to the influential childhood stories that had left a mark on me, primarily “Alice in Wonderland.” The fantastical universe of Alice resonated deeply with my own experiences, from childhood reflections in grand mirrors to theatre productions enacted at summer retreats. The surreal quality of Alice’s journey also connected me with my experiences in St Pete, with its Dali Museum and other new surrealist influences.

My latest work focuses on Alice Through the looking glass, integrating themes from Jungian psychology, the philosophy of reality and dreams, and our modern fascination with alternative realities and artificial intelligence. This exploration was partly inspired by Einstein’s technique of awakening from the hypnotic state to note his best ideas. This nap-induced creativity has become a part of my studio practice. Upon waking, I would delve into my studio, channelling the spirit of Alice into my paintings. I studied the original illustrations of Alice, particularly captivated by the fantastical creatures and characters. One creature that resonated deeply was the Cheshire Cat, reminding me of a cat I once had, and its sly, knowing smile.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CrKpjtEuBnc/

In my current artwork, I’ve integrated the Cheshire Cat using a novel printmaking technique. I used reflective vinyl die cuts of the cat’s face, reminiscent of its disappearing and reappearing act. When placed on a similar coloured paper, the cat seemingly vanishes, only to reappear from a different viewpoint – just as the Cheshire Cat in the story. To tie it all together, my composition incorporates the Fibonacci sequence, creating a harmonious blend of time, space, and mirroring. This choice reflects Alice’s adventure, our perception of reality, and my own childhood memories. In this piece, five Cheshire Cats are set to appear and disappear in a mirror, with Alice eagerly searching for them.

Ultimately, “Alice in Wonderland” allows me to fuse various themes – from surrealism and philosophy to personal memories and contemporary issues – creating a playful, introspective art piece that aims to challenge and enchant.

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