Sarah Slavick’s abstract art explores some of the most basic elements of the body’s interior—DNA, blood, veins—and their societal implications—birth, family, disease, recovery. Expressing such complex concepts in a minimalist framework is no easy feat, but Slavick has spent her full artistic career doing just that.
Slavick loves polarities and other puzzles. “I’m interested in duality,” she says. Her nature is not to prescribe messages for viewers to take away from her artwork, but to encourage them to travel their own interior paths. “I look for broad interpretation,” she says. “I don’t want my work to have singular meanings.”
That may be how she manages to turn out paintings that are raw and intense, but also lyrical and joyful. Her “Phylum Series” is comprised of works with deeply colored patterns that are almost a system of shapes—beautiful, complex, organic. Some of the pieces have dizzying numbers of wooden panels of varying sizes and depths. “I was referencing nature visually and conceptually,” Slavick says. She quickly settled on her key theme for the series, mostly oils on wood: phylum is the primary subdivision of a taxonomic kingdom. “I was thinking how we categorize nature and control it,” she says.
A resident of Jamaica Plain, Slavick travels with her husband and their teenage son every summer to Provincetown. She also visits the Cape-tip town with her students from the Art Institute of Boston at Leslie University, where she is a professor of painting and drawing. She grew up in a large family, and several of her sisters are artists as well. The siblings assembled the exhibit “Flesh and Blood,” which touched on genealogy and the body and traveled to points including Carnegie Mellon University, Florida, and Hong Kong.
Her current work is in the “Phylum” vein: paintings composed of hundreds of pieces of wood in varying shapes and sizes. Slavick sees it as a journey to understand how separate entities are linked with their “surrounding neighbors and how they change by becoming something greater than themselves.”
Change is in the air for Slavick; for one, her materials are more refined. “I use this teeny little paintbrush now, close up to canvas,” she says. “I can’t tell you why that happens.” Her color sensibility is changing as well. “I think it’s more optimistic in certain ways,” she says. Where she will be with art in 10 years is anybody’s guess—10 years ago, she says, she had no inkling that she would be where she is today.
Sarah Slavick’s work may be seen at Tao Water Gallery at 352 Commercial Street in Provincetown (taowatergallery.com); at sarahslavick.com; and at the Ellen Miller Gallery at 38 Newbury Street in Boston.