Helene Slavin

Artist's Statements


In this show, PARACOSM, I continue to push my techniques to explore the realm of fractals and nature. Fractals are ubiquitous in our natural world- from the microscopic to the cosmic- they take the forms of patterns that are repeated at different scales of magnification. My hope is that these abstract landscapes feel primordial, organic, and timeless. Most of the paintings are named for various spans of geologic time- different ages, epochs, periods, eras, and eons- and are intended to evoke a feel of more elemental and distant times.

The title work for this show “Nike for the Landfill” evokes a similarly timeless theme- one with potentially catastrophic consequences for our region. The West Lake Landfill sits in Bridgeton, Missouri and was the dumping ground for nuclear weapons waste dating back to the Manhattan Project. The landfill contains highly toxic radioactive isotopes such as 230thorium with a half-life of 75,400 years and 238uranium with a half-life of 4.468 billion years. Sitting in the middle of St. Louis. The largest nuclear weapons waste site in the country and an underground fire burns less than 600 feet away. If this nuclear disaster occurs, how many eons will it take for our beloved city to return to a state that is healthy for our children to play? This threat cannot be allowed to remain in our midst!

Nike for the Landfill is my fractal interpretation of the Nike (or Winged Victory) of Samothrace, a statue of stunning beauty in the Louvre. This painting is my prayer for the remediation of the nuclear waste at West Lake. It is also intended to honor those that have battled so heroically to remove this nuclear menace from our city- Just Moms StL for fearlessly advocating for the removal of this waste for more than five years; Earth Defense Coalition and Soul Fire Caravan for a series of protests that garnered national media attention and prodded our legislators into writing legislation to remove this waste; Missouri Coalition for the Environment for their ongoing efforts to inform the community; Maria Chappelle-Nadal for her relentless advocacy for her constituents; and Kay Drey for her undying endurance in her study of the impacts of Westlake on our water.

Helene Slavin, JUL 24, 2017


My work exists at the nexus of art and science, continuing in the same vein as my previous paintings. In this series, I channel the forces of fractal geometry as I throw paint onto sheets of clear plastic. Fractals form the contours of our natural world, from the microscopic to the cosmic- they are the dynamic force that gives shape to our universe. They produce effects in my work that the viewer perceives as organic and timeless, surreal and familiar, as the viewer makes reference to the natural world. Echoes of trees, clouds, and single-celled organisms may be perceived even though the paintings are abstract.

In this series, my color theory has developed from its roots in Dutch renaissance painting, where compliments are tied to a quinacridone gold and now to a transparent green- gold. The deeper palette is influenced by the deep, vibrant greens and reds in paintings by Gericault, Delacroix, and Velasquez. I use white and clear gels to form the foundation for passages of opaque and transparent color, and use principles of atmospheric perspective to create color compositions that are both harmonious and dynamic. Gels and glazes are used to produce a luminous effect, so that light activates the composition. This effect is enhanced when the paintings are hung away from a white wall, as light passes through them.

In this work, I hope to create images that are suspended in time. I find myself haunted by persistent familiar questions-

What is the nature of this existence… and what is my place in this expansive canopy of the infinite?


My current work represents a radical departure from my previous paintings. While my earlier work consisted of landscapes and figurative pieces that had an abstract quality, I consider this new work to be abstractions of nature. The primary force that shapes and gives life to my paintings is fractal geometry. Fractals are ubiquitous in nature- from the microscopic to the cosmic- they take the form of patterns that are repeated at different scales of magnification. They are one of the profound natural forces that have shaped the natural world from the beginning of time- they may be found in crystals, fossils, leaves, trees, blood vessels, coastlines, galaxies and nebulae. Discovered by Mandelbrot in 1987, fractals define the patterns that to a great degree form much of the fabric of our physical and visual existence.

Historically, landscape artists have tried to capture the fractal quality of scenes in nature. I feel that I’m navigating fundamentally different terrain. Rather than trying to capture or imitate nature, I strive to distill the essence of the fractal geometry found in nature by allowing the paint to be moved by fractal forces.

This series is rooted in both contemporary action painting and classicism. Each composition is guided by abstract shapes of Rembrandt landscapes. I then guide and manipulate the paint using basic forces of gravity, pressure, heat, friction and sparingly, physical manipulation with brushes. I do this to explore the infinite ways that the paint flows, weaves together, separates, and interfaces. This technique is guided by a color theory that I have developed and refined over the years that was inspired by classical paintings from the Dutch renaissance. This color theory is based on a system of compliments producing a pallette that is integrated, subtle, and luminous.

Ultimately, in this work, I aspire to a beauty that is complex and elusive, ancient and timeless, familiar and surreal. It is here that I try to reconcile the fundamental dualities of our human condition- birth and death, creation and destruction, the spirit and the primal substance of our existence.

You are here.

Helene Slavin
May 2010

In my paintings I try to create a sense of a place that expresses my longing for grace and beauty. My longing is not for a simple beauty, but for a strange and complex beauty that can convey the subtlest nuances of human pathos, from the deepest suffering to the most rapturous enchantment. This duality, which I feel characterizes the human condition, is at the core of my work. I try to capture and symbolize it through a visual language in which I balance and contrast various properties of color, form, and texture in order to create painterly effects that range from the lyrical to the dissonant, from the specific to the atmospheric. These effects are achieved through a variety of means, some of them painstaking and others riskily dependent on chance. My subjects—generally landscapes or human figures—are not significant in and of themselves. Instead, they are intended to suggest a narrative aspect, the sense of an interpretive human presence that connects the immediate image to a more distant past, the physical work to a spiritual truth.

Helene Slavin
April 2004


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