Art school never suited Daryl Slaton.
“In college, they either wanted us to draw boring still lifes or draw our feelings, making some comment about today’s society,” Slaton says, recalling his time at UNC-Charlotte in the 1970s.
A Gastonia native raised on comics and cartoons, Slaton never took himself too seriously. While other art students mused on the meaning of life, infusing their pieces with allegory, Slaton sketched debonair mice driving jalopies and pigs dressed as vikings.
After seven semesters of this — of “struggling,” he says — Slaton left college and got a job in the graphics department of Southeastern department store Belk, which is headquartered in the area. “I was the first employee to be given a computer that would be used creatively and not for number-crunching,” Slaton recalls.
From there, he worked for a small multimedia company in Charlotte, crafting cartoon characters for AT&T, FedEx, and other impressive conglomerates. Eventually, he branched out on his own as a freelance illustrator and, in 2007, moved to Biltmore Lake to be closer to his now-wife, mixed-media artist Louise Glickman. (Together, the two founded the Artsville Collective, a group of Buncombe County creatives with gallery space in Marquee.)
Today, Slaton spends his days creating fanciful cartoons that literally come to life when viewers use an augmented reality app on their phones. In “Flight of the Bunny,” for instance, a young child rides on the back of an airborne rabbit, fluttering through the clouds. Set against a turquoise sky, the pen-and-ink drawing is gentle and soothing — a brief respite from the day’s stresses.
“To my knowledge, there have been at least three middle-aged women who have actually cried when they saw the animation,” says Slaton.
Of course, he never meant to make anyone cry. On the contrary, Slaton’s pieces typically evoke joy, especially those featuring Gallagher.
Deeply inspired by iconography from the 1930s, Gallagher is an obliging tiger whose benevolent acts inadvertently place him in harm’s way. In Din-Din for Dinny, for example, Gallagher carries a bowl of chow next door to a hungry dragon. Pleased with her feast, the fire-breathing beast shows her appreciation by charbroiling poor Gallagher.
“I see Gallagher as a gentle soul who is trying to do good deeds,” says Slaton. “But very often, he finds himself in awkward situations.”
Considering the tiger’s tiring misadventures, he’s deserving of a wintertime rest. Accordingly, Slaton has developed a motley crew of Yuletide personalities that debuted last month at IMPRESSED: Print, Paint, Dye, Repeat, a holiday show running at the Artsville Collective Gallery through the third week of January.
Featuring the likes of a hot cocoa-sipping “mad catter” and a zealous nutcracker, Slaton’s Christmastime characters are whimsical and outlandish — his signature style since those early days at UNC-Charlotte.
“In college, they were looking for meaning in my art and there I was, drawing dragons and superheroes,” Slaton says with a laugh. “But my work does what art is supposed to do: It engages the viewer. It gets a reaction.”
Daryl Slaton, Asheville. “IMPRESSED: Print, Paint, Dye, Repeat,” an exhibit featuring Slaton’s work along with pieces from other artists, is presented at the Artsville Collective Gallery in Marquee (36 Foundy St. in the River Arts District, artsvilleusa.com) through Sunday, Jan. 22. Slaton also has work at Mars Landing Galleries (37 Library St., Mars Hill, 828-747-7267, marslandinggalleries.com). For more information, visit tailsofwhimsy.com.