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Tom Slaughter Icon Alphabet

 

  • Exhibition

  • On view now
  • MASS MoCA

Covering an interior wall visible to visitors approaching MASS MoCA’s postindustrial museum lobby (as well as to those in its galleries), Tom Slaughter’s joyful imagery unfurls across a 140 ft. stretch in the first-ever exhibition designed by his daughters Hannah and Nell Jocelyn and son-in-law Jim Mezei. The expansive Icon Alphabet celebrates Slaughter’s lifetime creating bright, playful imagery drawn from his paintings, prints, wallpaper, and billboards. This is the first exhibition focusing on Slaughter’s bold personal visual vocabulary since his death in 2014.

Join us for a Members Opening Reception on Saturday, March 9, at 5:30pm.

Tom Slaughter’s drawings, paintings, and cut-paper illustrations present objects and scenes from the artist’s life in New York and coastal Long Island. For Slaughter, the very familiarity of these images made them ideal subjects: “Icons…. these are my alphabet. I draw them over and over until they are part of my language. Sunglasses, bikes, hats, boats, buildings…they are all just part of an excuse to make images.” Icon Alphabet will combine Slaughter’s work as an artist and illustrator across media — “I paint, draw, cut paper, use a computer, and even an iPhone — it’s all the same hand.”

Slaughter’s images are quintessentially modern, their subjects rendered with deft vividness and graphic punch. The simplicity of Slaughter’s forms and the artist’s use of primary colors suggest ties to Henri Matisse’s cut-outs, or Alexander Calder’s mobiles. He once quipped: “I use primary colors, mostly because I never did take a painting class. The colors worked well enough for Calder and Lichtenstein.” Calder saw his abstract mobiles as “sketches” for “a system of the Universe, or part thereof,” and believed that “Secondary colors and intermediate shades serve only to confuse and muddle the distinctness and clarity.” This clarity likewise characterizes a modernist approach to architecture and design, which rejected excessive ornamentation in favor of a unified, streamlined whole. Slaughter’s own work pares down each “icon” to its most essential characteristics, making the visual language of modernist design accessible to young people and adults alike through his prints, posters, children’s book illustrations, and even wallpaper designs.

The artist’s exhibition at MASS MoCA runs concurrently with an installation of Tom Slaughter’s works at The Artist Book Foundation (also located on the downtown North Adams, Massachusetts museum campus). The Artist Book Foundation will publish the first-ever monograph of the artist’s work in spring 2019.

About the artist
Acclaimed for his playful prints, paintings, and designs, Tom Slaughter (1955 – 2014) illustrated 11 children’s books including Boat Works and Do You Know Which Ones will Grow? which was named a 2011 Notable American Library Association book of the year. He worked as a printmaker in collaboration with Durham Press for 25 years. His editions are included in the collections of MoMA and the Whitney Museum of American Art. His work has been the subject of over 30 solo exhibitions in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Vancouver, Germany, and Japan.

Tom Slaughter, Untitled (Blue windows), 1989
Flashe paint on canvas
Courtesy of Hannah and Nell Jocelyn

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