(American, b. 1951)
"Healer, Dr. Gregorio Hernandez", 1986
oil on canvas
signed, dated and titled en verso.
84" x 72", framed 88" x 75-3/4"
Provenance: Private collection, Connecticut.
Literature: Illustrated in Donald Kuspit, Hunt Slonem: An Art Rich and Strange (New York: H. N. Abrams, 2002), pp. 33 and 34.
Notes: Dr. Gregorio Hernandez, a pivotal recurring figure in Hunt Slonem's art of the mid-1980s and 1990s, was a Venezuelan doctor, who died in 1919 after being hit by a car while bringing a sick patient medicine to his home. A devout Roman Catholic, who gave alms and spiritual guidance to the poor, he became revered in death as a "saint". His name is invoked for healing purposes, and miracles are believed to have occurred after praying for his intercession to God. The Roman Catholic Church has honored him with the title "Venerable", and since 1949 he has been in the process of beatification. As a contemporary "saint", he is worshipped as a spiritual healer, who communes with people and animals, syncretizing Maria Lionza - the Mother/Goddess of nature in indigenous faiths in Central America - with Roman Catholicism. Dr. Gregorio has been a wellspring for songs and native art, and is readily identified through both Venezuelan edifices and art by his iconic suits, mustache and boller hat.
His shaman-like persona equally inspired Slonem, who was drawn to the figure as a medium of transcendence for his own art through which his innermost beliefs are channeled, imbuing images with metaphysical meaning. Animals, monkeys in this painting, commune with the healer, creating a constellation around the Doctor that radiate against the gold ground, redolent of Byzantine icons, framing the Doctor in an Apotheosis as he levitates upward from the bottom of the painting. Regarding Dr. Gregori, Slonem said, "I have chosen to paint him a lot because I like the fact that he's this great metaphysicianâ€¦ who is always in a suit, tie, and pants... He is also contemporary which is meaningful since most people think saints or saintly powers were to the time of Christ".This large scale painting is historically significant, since it was the impetus for the artist's South American-inspired , spiritual artistic explorations.