In finance, romance and art, timing is everything. Ask Kevin Sloan. Just three weeks before the opening of his Cabinet of Curiosities exhibition at Gardner Colby Gallery, his new series of paintings by the same name was featured in American Art Collector magazine.
Sloan is the Merlin of magical realism, a term coined by art critic Franz Roh all the way back in 1925 to describe paintings that tap into our emotional reservoirs by hiding unsuspected or suggestive content in what might otherwise seem like a common, ordinary scene.
Most people are familiar with Andrew Wyeth’s masterpiece, Christina’s World. At first blush, it depicts a young, dark-haired girl gazing at a distant farmhouse from a field of brown grass. There’s an air of mystery or ambiguity. But the principle underlying magical realism is that we usually don’t appreciate the true meaning of even the simplest phenomena.
Upon closer inspection, you realize Christina’s not young. She’s in her 50s. She’s not languorously reclining in that field either. Disabled, she’s using her thin, deformed arms to drag herself toward home. Suddenly, what appears to be a peaceful, idyllic scene takes on a sad, even horrific tenor.
Like Wyeth, Kevin Sloan employs seemingly ordinary objects to portray a deeper understanding of reality. As Eleanor McDonald notes in the American Art Collector piece, “Sloan encourages us to make a connection between … the rare in nature and the rare among the manmade.” Like John James Audubon, who serves as a source of continual inspiration for his works, Sloan seeks to draw attention to threatened and endangered species, like the sea turtle in Tropical Tableau (above left) and the whopping crane in The Times (left), of which there were but 16 in the 1940s and less than 300 today.
Like any good magical realist, Sloan portrays his subjects in a sharp, unsentimental, unemotional way. His compositions are tightly unified and appear completely airless, as if they’re under glass. Sloan prefers the static over the dynamic, and juxtaposes intricately-detailed subjects in still-life foregrounds against distant landscapes contained in backdrop paintings. These result is a spiritual relationship with a world of curious things.
It’s really impossible to appreciate the minute detail and technical mastery embodied in Sloan’s works from a mere photograph. You simply have to see them in person … at Gardner Colby Gallery, which is located at 386 Broad Avenue South in historic Olde Naples.