You’ve seen them gracing gallery walls and telephone poles alike: Panhandle Slim’s vivid portraits edged in bold black line, with handwritten text, are a staple of Savannah’s art scene and cityscape.
Depicting a range of public figures from Batman to James Baldwin, Slim’s poignant pieces begin with the people’s trash, find a place in their homes and the artist hopes, inspire them to create their own works.
Through Slim’s brush, pop lyricism reads profound, the musings of the world’s greatest minds become accessible and relatable and people of all backgrounds can enjoy and own original, local artwork.
“I got the idea from listening to music while I painted,” Slim says. “I do not have a set way of how I create my paintings. I can see an image and paint that or hear a great quote and go from there. Or maybe a current pop culture topic gets stuck in my head and I go from there.”
Though his work will be exhibited among fresh sealed canvases and spotless boards Nov. 22 at Blick Art Materials, Slim gravitates toward found surfaces and enjoys his art’s role in the life cycle of discarded materials.
“Painting on materials/surfaces that I find is rewarding,” he says. “I take someone’s trash, put some paint on it and then someone else sees a newfound beauty in it and it goes back in someone’s house.
“I suppose someone’s children or family member will come along and throw the painting away one day.”
In addition to boards, used signs and scraps, Slim also works on pre-existing artworks found in second-hand shops — many likely cast off by the aforementioned rhetorical family members.
“I did a painting on a thrift store painting and my friend Robyn (Reeder, owner of Civvies New & Recycled Clothing) liked it,” he says. “Robyn is a pro at thrift store shopping and she now picks up the perfect thrift store paintings/prints for me to paint on. She drops them off at my house and I get to work. It’s a cool collaboration I have going with her.”
Recent surfaces include a horse-drawn cart scene which now, thanks to Slim, is overseen by Snoop Dogg and lyrics from “Gin & Juice.”
“People might think these retro ‘thrift store’ paintings are easy to come by, but they are not,” he says. “These style paintings are special to me. I like taking these old paintings and prints that speak of another day and time and mixing them with pop culture people or current affairs.”
Though his work can be spotted in local galleries, restaurants and bars (visit Hang Fire before the late crowd spills in to get a good look at his pieces adorning the walls), Savannahians may spot a Slim original on their dog walk or daily commute.
Abandoned gas stations, phone booths and Daffin Park have all served as temporary galleries.
It’s his way of telling the people’s history, sharing the stories that have been left off of the city’s prim bronze markers. He stakes hand-painted boards in the ground, nails portraits to poles and even paints directly on city of Savannah garbage cans.
This past weekend, a portrait of a shirtless Mick Jagger greeted drivers on Ogeechee Road inscribed “Savannah, GA History: In May 1965 days after their second appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, the Rolling Stones stayed in this Motel,” a piece of history that had been generally forgotten.
Slim strategically places his public pieces, engaging with the cityscape to provide perspective; in one instance, a portrait of David Bowie, with his lyric “I’m Afraid of Americans” scrawled in red, is situated just before an Eastman Gun Show billboard.
“I like to place the painting in a spot that makes for a good juxtaposition photo,” Slim says. “They do not seem to stay out in the public very long. I will also place them around a known landmark, post the photo on Facebook and people go get it.”
While having his work nabbed by admirers was not something Slim expected, it has become just another phase in the art’s life cycle.
“It was not my plan that people would come along and take them and hang them in their house, on their house, etc.,” he says. “I really thought people or authorities would come along and throw my paintings away when I hung them up in various public places. It’s exciting that people find them and take them home to enjoy.”
Slim began painting when he saw a piece in a gallery that he couldn’t afford and went home to create his own. Through his show, Slim hopes to incite others to create.
“I guess people can look at my paintings, say to themself, ‘I can do that.’ They can then pick up some paint and brushes on the way out the door of Blick and start their own adventure in painting,” he says.
Art that reuses local materials, raises a voice for the community, finds a place of honor in local homes and encourages others to make their own pieces? Now that’s the definition of folk art.