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Lightning and Slate


"Reflections of Lightning on Slate" by Thomas Merwin. Oil on canvas.

The Slate as Muse exhibition at the Slate Valley Museum challenged artists to use slate as their creative muse in their artwork. The theme was a perfect fit for sculptors, but slate is a less obvious inspiration for painters. As the curator for the exhibition, I wondered how they would make this stone come alive on the canvas.

Thomas Merwin is one of the painters in the exhibition who not only brought slate to life, he made it practically explode off the canvas.

Merwin’s painting process expresses a layering of symbol and spirituality using nature as a doorway to the expression of existential concerns. “Running and hiking woodland trails is a main element in this process of layering memory and landscape, the subconscious, and my painting technique,” says the artist, who sees his paintings as “frozen breaths of moments strung together in time.”

“There is a ruined slate processing mill and slate heaps across from Glen Lake in Bomoseen, Vermont where I often go for inspiration,” says the artist. “Reflections on wet, dark slate during a storm reflects the shimmering energy of lightning when one is lucky enough to be caught unawares, inspired Reflections of Lightning on Slate, which became part of a series of works called The Geological History of Vermont that lead to a further series called Night in a Cave based on our shared memories of fire light’s reflection on damp cave walls.”

Merwin_Reflections-DEER Detail

"Reflections of Lightning on Slate" (Deer Detail). Thomas Merwin.

All of Merwin’s painting is a linking of many experiences, rather than capturing any one single experience. If you look closely at the Reflections of Lightning on Slate, you will find two deer in the abstracted imagery, the results of layering the memory of having seen deer in the surrounding woods on previous hikes, and the current landscape. “Inspiration for this piece also came from memories of playing on slag heaps in all kinds of weather as a child,” says the artist, “combined with a memory of charred tenement flats in New York’s Lower East Side as a fire dies down and the sun rises over the rooftops.”

“It’s the alchemy of experience that shows up in the studio during the act of painting,” Merwin explains. “The stone quarries of Cezanne, the black and white reflections on wet dark streets in the film, The Third Man, …all of our shared experience of life through our senses, environs and art are there in our eternal ‘next moment’ to enjoy.

For more information on Thomas Merwin and his work, visit his website at: Merwin Studios



Slate as Muse is a 5-month national exhibition at the Slate Valley Museum, curated by Serena Kovalosky and organized by Artful Vagabond Productions. The exhibition challenged artists from throughout the United States to push the boundaries of how slate is perceived today. Nineteen artists present twenty-seven works of art not only in sculpture, but in painting, photography and mixed media.

Slate as Muse will continue at the museum through November 7, 2014 and the public is invited to the Closing Reception and Awards Ceremony. Since the show’s opening in June, visitors have cast their votes for their favorite artwork and an Awards Ceremony will announce the winners of the People’s Choice and the Slate as Muse awards. Many of the Slate as Muse artists will be available to answer questions and share their insights into their work.

Slate Valley Museum
17 Water Street
Granville, New York

To read more from this series on the Slate as Muse Exhibition,

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