Continuing my ongoing series of what CWE-based artists are creating during the pandemic, I reached out to the neighborhood’s gallery owners, surmising that since they are in the business of selling art, they might well dabble in creating it as well. I reached out to three of them, Duane Reed, Charlie Houska, and Philip Slein, whose art is featured here. Look for updates on the other two gallerists soon.
When the pandemic hit and the quarantine went into effect, Slein said he returned to political cartooning, something he had been interested in since 6th grade (more on that later).
“My anger at the political situation in the country bubbled up and I put the rage into something positive,” Slein explained. “I’ve drawn over 100 political cartoons that, much to my surprise, have struck a nerve with many people and have become quite popular.”Slein was also spurred on by his father, who passed away last October. “He was my biggest supporter and the cartoons lifted his spirits as he was undergoing treatment for cancer. In fact, he asked for a cartoon every day,” which pushed the artist to be more prolific, something he now realizes was a gift.Slein continued, “I’ve gained many followers on social media, which is the main outlet for the cartoons’ distribution. That’s also where I’ve attracted the attention of political cartoon curators on the national scene who have added my work to their collections of top artists working in the field today.”
After learning that one of his favorite artists, David Hockney, uses an iPad for some of his art, Slein felt it was okay to use it to create his political cartoons.
As mentioned, Slein’s interest in political cartooning began in grade school. While working on a report on the subject in 6th grade, he wrote to many of the top artists of the time, including Pulitzer-prize winning cartoonist Pat Oliphant. Oliphant responded with a personal note on a cartoon depicting Ronald Reagan introducing James Watt, his controversial interior secretary.
Slein heeded Oliphant’s advice and kept drawing while at Horton Watkins High School, then at the University of Missouri, where he earned his BFA and did some work at the Columbia Daily Tribune. At MU, he studied with Frank Stack, a legendary underground cartoonist recognized as an originator of this type of subversive cartooning. Slein went on to earn an MFA in painting from Washington University.
Another example of Slein’s work can now be viewed at Pi Pizza CWE. The painting of the St. Louis Riverfront was commissioned by The Sheldon Galleries in 2014 on the occasion of St. Louis’ sesquicentennial. The painting shows the 7 bridges leading into the city, which Slein describes as “Bridges to the past, Bridges to the future, St. Louis at 250.”
After teaching, and running college and university galleries for 5 years, Slein opened his own gallery in 2003 on Washington Avenue. A move to another downtown location occurred in 2005, and then in 2012 an opportunity arose to move to his current location at 4735 McPherson Ave. The main focus of his business is to bring exhibitions to St. Louis of the “best contemporary painters in America.”
The latest exhibition, Swain, Walsh, Spehn, opened yesterday Saturday, February 13. The gallery at 4735 McPherson is open Wednesday through Saturday 11 to 4.