Interview with Artist J.R. Slattum4 min read
J.R. Slattum is a self-taught artist based in Portland, Oregon. Inspired by personal enlightenment after a near-death experience in 2007, he began painting and creating as meditation. His work heavily incorporates philosophy and psychology, asking the viewer to travel inward and find answers within themselves.
APEX MAGAZINE: In your artist statement you mention “the creative process as [your] meditation.” What is your creative process and how does the meditative aspect influence both the process and the finished work?
JR SLATTUM: Every piece starts with a stream of consciousness doodle that’s more of a listening process than it is a dictation. In this mindset of playful discovery, I seem to tap into an ocean of infinite potentiality―pure creativity. There, I just draw, and in a way, I become the idea as the idea forms on the paper. That’s usually when something fascinating presents itself and inspires a new work going forward. I’m greatly fascinated by philosophy and psychology, even above art. It’s in this Innerspace that the archetypes and beings that I paint exist. Once an idea has presented itself, that’s when I get serious. There’s quite a bit of planning that goes into the work from here while nurturing the vision. This is more of a focused mindset. A mantra of the task at hand as I build the work from the composition on up. It’s often a place of growing the idea wild then pruning it down to its true form. The final step is executing the final work. With all the planning out of the way, the actual paint process is a nice blend of the two mindsets above. A relaxed focus, where the focus is executing the plan while painting in the moment, intuition guiding it above and beyond my vision.
AM: In this cover piece, “Sun Story,” as well as several of your other pieces, the characters have intricate designs all over their bodies, simultaneously reminiscent of a maze or tree bark. Where do these designs come from and how are they meant to shape the characters?
JS: The designs are definitely part of the character’s personality. These Inner-beings tend to be faceless―existing behind the mask (the ego). When distilling their essence into a visual symbol, it begs the question, “how do I portray curiosity without a contemplative emotion on their face?” A maze between the heart and mind could serve this goal. A spiral can represent abundance, birth, or creation. A lot of times this is association and emotion-image synesthesia. “Sun Story,” in particular, needed an empathic understanding of the sun within the mind … and then recreating the sun from the heart onto the pages of the book; empathetic understanding―becoming the sun to recreate the sun, authentically.
AM: Some of your works like “Sun Story’’ and “Warm Song” connect the arts with the color gold. In “Black Bird Song’’ and “Soulstice” there are gold birds. What significance does the color gold hold for you?
JS: There’s a lot of play between dark and light, both aesthetically and conceptually, in my work. Life is alchemy. We all seek gold in a sense, whether it be actual gold, moments of beauty, or truth and insight. However, being creatures of comfort, a lot of us overlook the Alchemic Stage of Nigredo―the blackness. Gold is not the opposite of this. Gold is when we do the shadow work and assimilate that into the light of consciousness (Albedo). From there we distill a truth. The gold is the child of that sacred union. Oneness. Balance.
AM: Your artist statement begins with “Not places but versions of our world.” Many of your works have landscapes reminiscent of Dali’s landscapes. How does other art influence yours, when your process seems so introspective?
JS: One will be hard pressed to create a vast landscape in surrealism without tapping into the great Dali! (The same dilemma presents itself with clocks). As we grow into artists our influences birth into an aesthetic salad served on the side of our own subjective symbolism. I think for most surrealists, once mature, ideas become more influential as they push the philosophical boundaries of our Innerspace. New ideas allow us to adventure into unexplored trails between our known ideas. Sometimes you meet a mystical being with an interesting story there.
AM: Some of your works, such as “Catharsis,” are clearly telling a story. Do you wish for your viewers to find the story you’ve illustrated or do you want viewers to create their own meaning from your work? Do you have a clear story in your mind when creating narrative pieces?
JS: This is a bit of the “chicken or egg” paradox. A lot of times, I share the same sense of discovery with the viewer as the work is being created. Of course, I’ll have my own subjective reading―sometimes this guides the work early on. Mostly though, I don’t think a piece of artwork is ever set in stone. The finished artwork is merely the body; the conversation with the viewer after it’s been created is the soul/life/story of the work. As life changes for us, our relationship with the symbolism in the work will change, sometimes drastically changing the meaning of a piece. It’s nice to find a balance between hinting at a clear story and the freedom to explore.
AM: Can you elaborate on the archetypes and beings found in your work? What importance do they hold for you?
JS: There’s no rhyme or reason to the archetypes, they are what they are. Sometimes they provide guidance & meaning. Sometimes a reminder. They change as life changes.
They’re mostly just an empathetic doorway (or avatar) into the subconscious realm. There’s a journey that’s formed by the current relationship with the symbols encountered. I hope I do the archetypes justice, enough that they resonate with others, encouraging them to enjoy that same inward journey. There’s treasure in there!
AM: Thank you, JR Slattum, for a deeper look into your process and beautifully introspective work. You can find more of his work at https://www.deviantart.com/jslattum.