My first introduction to Corrie Slawson’s work came in the summer of 2014, when she answered an online open call for artists living within 150-miles of the Toledo Museum of Art. The strength of Slawson’s digital portfolio was enough to guarantee her inclusion in the 95th Toledo Area Artists exhibition (Nov. 21, 2014 – Jan. 4, 2015), the museum’s recurring regional exhibition. But it was not until I visited Slawson’s studio some weeks later—and looked at her work in person—that I fully appreciated her process, approach, and her articulation of a personal visual language that is all her own.
A set of steep stairs leads up to the light filled attic studio that Slawson maintains in her Cleveland Heights home. For Slawson, the studio serves as both laboratory and private thinking space. Large- scale works on paper in various states of completion are spread throughout the room and the artist’s materials—spray paint, snapshots, small jars of ink and gold leaf –dot the landscape of the studio. The overall effect is that of a composer mapping out a symphony: each work stands on its own but also speaks eloquently to those that came before and those that follow. The end result is a body of work immersed in a thoughtful, meditative dialogue with itself and the world surrounding.
Drawing inspiration from the cityscapes she encounters in her travels and daily life, Slawson’s practice centers on her impulse to ‘paint’ with prints. Weaving together layered images, sprays of color, and hints of reflective material, Slawson evokes a world that is at once jarring and familiar in its desolation. This world of desolate beauty is personal for Slawson as she frequently incorporates photographs (sometimes snapped with her iPhone) that capture the architecture, space, and texture of places she visits and the city in which she lives.
During my initial studio visit with Slawson I was struck by one of the inherent challenges her work offers—although it translates seamlessly to a digital format, it is only in person that the exquisite detail and fragility come through. The body of work that I encountered that first day was from Slawson’s Secure Parking series in which traces of the Cleveland Heights cityscape co-exist and mingle with imagery from urban Tijuana, a subject she focused on following her experiences in Mexico during a recent residency. A strong and compelling series, Secure Parking is notable for its inclusion of visual elements so subtle that the viewer could easily miss them, even with concentrated and sustained looking. While this intense subtlety is no doubt part of the magic of the work, at times it is also its greatest detractor.
What a marvel then, to see Slawson’s next major body of work, A desert of magnificence…(a glittering wasteland of laborious idleness), installed at Shaheen Modern and Contemporary in the winter of 2015/16. Like Slawson’s Secure Parking series, this more recent body of work relies heavily on the artist’s own documented encounters and continues to speak to a common experience of the neglected corners of the 21st century city. We all recognize the vocabulary of the forgotten urban space, where life still pushes, pulses, resolute and determined, against its own fraying edges. While Slawson continues to play with this vocabulary, there is a new and exciting direction evident in A desert of magnificence: the thoughtful, meditative dialogue that was the hallmark of her earlier work remains present but now turns outward, more directly referencing other art historical traditions such as traditional Chinese landscape painting and Japanese woodblock prints. Here Slawson has struck a chord—subtle, barely-there imagery no longer hides completely, but lies in wait, anticipating its own discovery.
With A desert of magnificence, it is clear that Slawson’s practice has developed deftly and rapidly, and I can’t wait to see where she’ll go next.
Halona Norton-Westbrook, Ph.D, is the Director of Collections at the Toledo Museum of Art. View more articles by Halona Norton-Westbrook.