Telling Stories: The Art of Gerald Slota
November 19, 2013
A few weeks ago, in anticipation of his upcoming exhibition, Gerald Slota stopped by The New Yorker to talk to the photography department about his work. Slota is a prolific artist whose formidable output reflects his more general passion for storytelling. He’s interested in making tangible fleeting, unspoken exchanges between people, as well as in the narratives that exist between fact and fiction.
Slota’s starting point is a photograph (either one of his own or a found image). He then cuts these pictures, collages them, writes on them, scratches their surfaces. Though these violent markings often give his images a sinister, even disturbing quality, Slota himself has an upbeat demeanor. Speaking about his work, he told me, “It’s a very intuitive process …. I start with a loose theme and work with a variety of materials to see if I can create something that, aesthetically, falls within that idea. If I make a mistake, I run with it, which, ultimately, adds to the feel of the image.”
This layering serves to abstract the work, making many of Slota’s pieces seem like snapshots of dark or disturbing memories. “I’m drawn to the provocativeness of the darkness of life,” he agreed, but suggested that the viewer’s reading of the work is always his or her own: “If you read something as being dark, well, maybe you, too, are a little dark. As I layer the image, or deconstruct it, the original concept becomes that bit more foggy and, I think, if something is not easily readable or understandable at a first look, it can create a sense of unease or confusion in the viewer. So there is that undercurrent of discomfort in the final art work.”
Slota’s work has appeared in many editorial publications (including The New Yorker), illustrating articles on a variety of subjects—autism, schizophrenia, the effects of alcohol on memory, sexual abuse in Buddhist communities, compulsive scratching—as well as short fiction by Joyce Carol Oates. Oates wrote the introduction to Slota’s first book, “Story,” from 2012. She put it well: “Slota’s art resists even as it teases us with the possibility of a coherent narrative; like a mirage ever retreating to the horizon, such art is tantalizing and elusive.”