Arlene Slavin A’64 is a multi-talented artist who has worked in a number of genres during her long career. She is a sculptor, painter and printmaker who embraces both the representational and the abstract, her scale ranges from intimate to monumental. She is very much at ease with disparate modes of production and a variety of materials—metal, etched glass, concrete, terrazzo—whatever she thinks best suits her current enterprise. Two passions, color and light, have been present in all of Slavin’s undertakings and together they constitute the heart of her practice.
This past year, May to October 2014, Slavin had a one-woman exhibition, Intersections at The Guild Hall Museum in East Hampton. Her work was presented two spaces, one indoor and one outdoor. The indoor gallery was filled with paintings on canvas, hand colored etchings and an acrylic polymer wall piece. This work was the inspiration for her new outdoor sculptures, prepared specifically for Guild Hall’s Sculpture Garden. Slavin also created a modern version of stained glass for the buildings’ entrance. The three arced entry windows were made from hand colored polymer strips encased in acrylic sheets. The Museum at Guild Hall acquired these pieces for their permanent collection. Susan Shaw A’72 interviewed her at that venue.
Can you talk about your current work and exhibition?
I wanted to create transparent, woven colored sculptures that use the changing light of day. The art was sited to take advantage of the arc of the sun in the sky. Early in the morning the sun comes through the pieces and the shadows are long, in front. They glow as the sun passes though. The overlay and overlapping creates depth which is why they are called “Intersections”. As the light changes in the garden, the sculptures create shifting colored shadows on the grass.
For the front museum lunette windows I created a modern riff on stained glass. They are multi colored polymer strips on a diagonal gird plan sandwiched between acrylic sheets that are riveted together. Some strips are industrially colored and some hand painted. Late in the afternoon colored shadows glow in the museum entrance.
What’s the connection between your life’s work and Cooper Union?
Getting into Cooper Union meant that you had talent and potential, it gave me confidence. Cooper saw the value of being an artist that you can concentrate on your work and be passionate about it. That’s what I wanted to do.
Were there any students or professors that had a big influence on your work.
It was more the atmosphere than any specific teacher. It was the excitement of being able to make art and be with people who were passionate about creating things. People who also paid attention to what was going on in the city. We were a quircky group. Michael Kwartler, Howard Buchwald, Ben Schonzeit and Susan Rabineau, who is no longer here, were my buddies. Nickolas Marsciano was very charismatic professor. I developed the sense of how to be artist and that it’s an honorable thing to do. You did it because you loved it. It was about passion and devotion.
What’s your acceptance story?
Cooper was the most prestigious of the art schools I got into and the price was right. It seemed like an exciting professional opportunity. At that time Cooper had just become a 4 year school, it was wonderful have the humanities classes, the liberal arts part and get a BFA.
I am from New York City, Queens. I went to Jamaica High School with 1800 graduating students. Ms. Miller, who was my art teacher had mentored me and she was the one suggested I apply to Cooper. It was thrilling getting into Cooper, helped get me out of suburbs and learn about the city. I feel that it changed my life. The ability to be a professional artist came out of that.
Have you stayed connected to the school?
Yes, I have a brick on the roof of the new building with my name on it and I contribute every year.
What inspires you?
The shifting light of nature: in the sky, on the water, in gardens
What would you like people to know about your work?
I’m a colorist making abstract art that reflects our natural world and human emotions.
At this phase of my life, it’s been very exciting to make these sculptures, to make something really new in my creative career. It was a really major life change. I had been doing a lot of public art for many years and that’s a collaborative effort. Now I’m just doing what I want to do. Playing with these colors and strips and seeing where it takes me.