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Restoring The Essential Goodness
by Mike Feder (from Direct Art Special Edition Fall 2003)

I go to Slowinski's studio to see the actual paintings. The walls are crowded with them, large and small. Maniacal generals, leering priests and demon nuns look down on me. Surrounded by the paintings I feel the room change; chairs and tables, walls and ceiling dissolve... I'm transported to some dark gothic forest, decay all around me, behind every tree.

After spending a couple of hours at the studio, I come home and spread out everything on the spare bed in the living room; post-cards, posters, magazine features of Slowinski's work-to this I added images of his paintings I print off the internet. I turn on the radio-find some classical music, heat up some coffee in the microwave, check my e-mail-take a bath... And when I come back to the bed-covered by Slowinski's paintings-I am jolted all over again.

My wife comes home from work-walks over to the bed. She, the eternal optimist, tells me she thinks the paintings are cynical. That leads to a little burst from me. "Cynical?" I ask her. "Do you read the papers?" "Do you watch TV?" This work isn't cynical-it's a pure reflection of our violent, greedy culture. "What's cynical is a handful of multi-millionaires committing murder all over the world, ignoring the basic rules of civilization, selling their bloated junk food, cars, TVs and telling the rest of us to behave and pay our taxes!"

The truth is if you held up a gigantic mirror to the insane, hypocritical excesses of American culture-and somehow froze all the images it reflected-this is what you'd see: pig-snouted nuns and lustful priests; crazy doctors opening up helpless patients with one hand while manipulating a cash-register with the other; the Founding Fathers leering while they rape black slaves and Indians; the bloated heads of suburban housewives and businessmen; armed, bloody toddlers... These paintings, these household excrescences, these demi-humans, twisted out of rational shape by greed, violence, racism, and blood-lust.

Around midnight, I go to bed and sleep badly. Toward morning, I have terrible nightmares; I wake up, drained and shaking; walk into the living room and my wife is still there, sitting on the couch, drinking a cup of tea. I look over at the bed-covered with Slowinski images. "You know," I tell my wife, "I think I better put these pictures away." As I gather them up I wonder: What compels someone to paint such things? I conclude the compulsion to portray these hidden urges and unremembered crimes must be based on an overwhelming need to rescue. It is a missionary compulsion. That's why the paintings are full of religious symbols and themes. The mission is to rescue the lost, to purge the diseased, to restore the essential goodness of humanity that has been suppressed, distorted and crushed.

Slowinski's soul carries a heavy burden. It is the repository for our barely controlled impulses, buried secrets, violent fantasies and crushed hopes. Like a mythical soothsayer compelled by fate--he points these things out--unable to stop himself--no matter how threatened or beaten down. The world needs such artists. Without them, who would keep us honest? Who will tell us what we don't want to hear--show us the true pictures of ourselves--individually and collectively as a society--which we bury in the basement or hide in the attic, like Dorian Grey.

I feel indelibly branded with these images, and it seems that anyone having looked at these paintings will be affected the same way. As I get up and go outside the images come with me. And as I look around, the streets, the stores, the cars, the people; everything has a brighter, sharper and more disturbing edge to it. This frightening aspect of our world was always there of course-now it's just impossible to avoid.


Mike Feder is a storyteller/author/performer/radio personality.
He has weekly radio show in New York City on WBAI-FM (Sundays 11am)

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