Thursday, November 5, 2009


jeffery mcnary

Chicago Art Review

There is a rich body of knowledge in the exhibition of John and Shawn Slavik currently at the Ogilvie/Pertl Gallery. The kinship and comparative approaches of these artists, “represent something or some point” in time which transcends the matter of fact. The exhibition, works of father and son, reaches through layers of wood and paint and material and returns with art, without filter. They make book, charmingly, passionately.

The exhibition, “Common Layers”, shares two disciplines, taking the viewer upstream in ways which explore the natural world and how we interpret and behave, possibly, beyond it.

“When things happen to me, I put it in my back pocket”, shares the senior, John, “And I say, ‘someday I’m gonna do something with that.’” And that he has and does, with his installations and flair and veneration of things natural. With his, ‘Indicator”, a wood carved bird, with protective lead covering its head, bares statements, ‘Sing with me’, ‘Why is there bigotry?’, ‘What goes around comes around’, ‘Pay attention’, and other comments. The sculpture is a social statement providing a stylistic luster to the artist’s manifesto. “An indicator gives a warning”, he says, “like that canary in a coal mine story. We, people”, he continues, “have this attitude that we’re the only things on the planet that feel, that think. This bird’s saying, ‘wait a minute, what about us. Since you’re the guardian of the planet, do something.’”

He works in both representative and abstract styles. “They’re both significant he says. I’m the story teller, and here’s a story,” he says pointing to, ‘Good and Evil,’ a stainless sculpture. The piece is in perfect balance when moving and connected when viewed from different perspectives. “Good and evil meet from time to time in life,” he shares.

Shawn’s work, ‘Don’t take Advice from Someone You Wouldn’t Trade Places With’, is an esoteric mixed media, skillfully employing wood and metal, color pigment and oil. “Choosing materials is most important”, he says. ‘It’s a very physical thing. I put on layers of paints, oil, pigments, they build up and I sand them down and carve into them.” The naked tree shapes are influences of the modernist architectural photographer, Julius Shuman, whom Shawn holds in high esteem. He adds that since Shuman’s death, he starts, “I’m throwing down trees”, hesitating, “I think I’ll stop….”, and trails off.

‘You Were Right About the stairs, Each One is a Setting Sun’, a mixed media on wood, steel and hydrosol, whistles, then smiles with its yellow ochre, to the viewer upon entering the show. It makes its presence known. The work, also Shawn’s, carries a host of black circles burned into the wood, further heightening the experience. “This holds a story of a conversation I had once. It was about planets and stars and galaxies and sun rises and sunsets. If we’re experiencing a sunset here, imagine how many other sunrises and sunsets there must be out there.”

Shawn mixes loose pigments with oil to arrive at his colors, and as a result they are seasonal, impacted by the temperature. “Not every thing makes it out of the workshop. Some fight back.”

The passion of the exhibition is uplifting. It’s no token affair and the relationship between the two artists is anything but common. “We’re our biggest critics”, says Shawn, “and he’s my best friend.”

The exhibition teaches and side steps strict adherence, and in the end is both stirring and stimulating. (Jeffery..McNary)

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