An Interview with Artist John Sonsini

John and BritneyOn Saturday, February 9, artist John Sonsini presented his artwork at the opening of his exhibition at Phoenix’s Bentley Gallery. Upon walking into the gallery, the size alone of the paintings commanded attention. The life-size portraits made an instant impression. While I stopped to view the paintings, I came to realize a commonality that I am rarely able to see in most artwork: the voice of the subject.

We often see art as a discourse for political and social statements. The opinions of artists can often overshadow the person that is being painted; the subject is a tool to express a particular belief. In Sonsini’s portraits, however, he embraces the simplicity of focusing on a particular person, and allows us to see the complexities that are hidden in the faces and gestures of everyday people. To him, this is what his art is all about.

Viewing the Work

In the following interview Sonsoni states, “I have always been interested in painting faces, figures. That always interested me. But, of course, for many years I’ve been painting portraits only, painting from life. I usually am interested to paint someone who has strong features, a commanding presence.”

These presences were obvious to me as I viewed the portraits, as I was able to sense the appreciation that Sonsini has for the men he paints. By creating a scene on his canvas that is relatable, real, and unblemished by any silent statement, the audience is exposed to a kind of art that goes beyond the norm.

Because of this simplistic approach to the meaning of his art, I was curious to know how Sonsini decided he was ready to expose his craft to the public.

Sonsini’s desire to exhibit his work is definitely to the advantage of all who are able to view his portraits. By letting the characteristics of his subjects speak for themselves, we are able to admire a portrait of raw emotion and qualities.

Thank you, John Sonsini, for answering Superstition Review’s questions.

1. Q: Who/what gave you the idea to become a public artist?

A: Well, of course, there are artists who don’t view exhibiting (which is a public experience) as all that important. But, in my case, I had always intended that exhibiting my work was an important continuum of the process of making art.

2. Q: Are there any artists in your family? What do they think of your career and work?

A: Actually my father was very gifted, in particular when it came to drawing. He had a natural ability. He really could draw anything. My family was very set on my being an artist. They always encouraged me to go in that direction when I was young. And, I believe they’ve enjoyed seeing me develop a career in the arts.

3. Q: How do you decide who/what to paint?

A: I have always been interested in painting faces, figures. That always interested me. But, of course, for many years I’ve been painting portraits only, painting from life. I usually am interested to paint someone who has strong features, a commanding presence. It’s quite difficult to sit for a painting. It takes a great deal of concentration and focus. Not everyone I’d like to paint is interested in modeling, or even has the time available. I ask each prospective model to work five hours each day until the painting is completed. So that does take quite some time. So, you see, ‘who’ I want to paint is all tied up in ‘who’ really can commit to that sort of focus and daily sessions.

4. Q: Do you believe that skilled painting can be taught and learned? Or is it a natural talent?

A: Well, you refer to the ‘skill’ of painting. You’re asking IF someone can be taught the skill of painting, as in a classroom. Well there are all sorts of technical issues that can be passed along, taught. But, really how one uses those things…I think that has to be just learned from doing, working, and of course, the best lesson is probably just…trial and error. But, sure, there are certain technical skills that could be taught and learned.

5. Q: Why do you use oil paints to create your art? Do you use any other mediums? Why or why not?

A: Yes, I work with oils. I like the fluidness of the medium. Because oil remains wet for quite some time, it is very suitable for working and reworking from day to day. And, of course, the color, the pigment in oil I find to have a saturation that I haven’t found in other mediums.

6. Q: What have your sitters thought of the process and your finished portrayal of them? Are you able to cultivate a kinship with them? How long does a piece usually take to complete?

A: Before I set out to do a large painting of someone, I always ask that we work for a few days drawing or a small painting. In this way it allows a new model to kind of test out the work before we launch into a large project. Most sitters seem to like the process. It’s very organized. We take a break about every half hour, then a long lunch break mid day. Most sitters seem to enjoy the finished painting. And, especially after so many days working on a painting, and getting to see the process, and understanding that the painting is a handcrafted object. In other words, anyone who’s expecting a photographic likeness well, I think, after a few days working, it would be obvious that my painting will be a far more painterly portrayal. A full figure portrait usually takes about 10 – 14 days to complete.

7. Q: Do you have any hopes or plans for your future in the art world?

A: A new painting I’m working on at the moment for an exhibition at the Autry National Center of the American West, here in Los Angeles. I’m painting a large portrait of two vaqueros/cowboys as part of a new installation at the museum, organized by Museum Curator Amy Scott. And then a group show in NYC at Salomon Contemporary in the Spring. And, of course, I’m very pleased to be showing my most current group of paintings here in Phoenix at Bentley Gallery.

John Sonsini’s paintings are on display at Bentley Gallery in Phoenix until tomorrow, February 28.

Guest Post, Tyler Sage: On Being a Western Writer

I once sat in on a poetry workshop with the Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott. I am not a poet, but he had agreed to come to my graduate school after a reading and I wanted to hear what he had to say. I snuck in and took a seat at the table, hoping that I wouldn’t be noticed. When Walcott entered, he took his seat, looked over the assembled poets, looked back again at me, and asked “What’s Woody Harrelson doing here?” (This is a remark I’ve gotten many times, although never from someone with a Nobel.)

When the chuckling around the table subsided, he let his smile fade too, took up the stack of poems, gazed at them for a moment, and then set about lambasting the assembled poets. He insisted that writing is a relationship with power; that it is a relationship that cannot be conducted in any serious way from inside the dominant center. Writing, he said, must be conducted “from the provinces.” According to Walcott, every young poet in the room was writing as if he or she was (or wanted to be) in “New York City, looking out at the rest of us.” He meant New York City literally, I think, but also metaphorically, as a kind of mental space in which artistic insiders, by virtue of being on the inside, come to be allied with the centers of cultural power and the dominant narrative. According to Walcott, this was an inexcusable artistic mistake.

The relationship with the center of power is one that (whether or not we agree with Walcott on the particulars) bears directly on writing about the American West. Like many people from the region, I grew up with a host of “Western” narratives and beliefs. I was raised in the great outdoors, fishing and backpacking, and I imbibed a heavy dose of frontier mythology – cowboys and gunfighters, Indians, pioneers, mountain men, pulp novels and Western movies. This is classic provincial stuff – the kind of heritage that, at a college back East, or a cocktail party on the Upper East Side, is often treated with a solicitous condescension. As Marilynne Robinson has noted, when she tells Eastern folks that she is from Idaho, one common response is “Then how can you write a book?” And yet it is also this province which has given the nation what is perhaps our deepest cultural myth: the self-reliant pioneer, the immigrant moving west to find land and freedom, the illimitable expansion of possibility, our Edenic vision of our nation.

In Walcott’s terms, then, the West is caught in a kind of paradox: it has the status of a province, and yet its myth has been enshrined as the national dream. Being a Western writer ties you unavoidably to this paradox. You are a provincial, a writer who will always, like it or not, operate from outside the center of power; but it is exactly towards this province’s myth of the radical individual that the American center has always wanted to feel it is moving.

An it is indeed a myth. We should all know by now. Beautiful and destructive, hopeful and violently acquisitive, forced relentlessly onto us by a culture that adores power and spectacle and self-help mantras, and yet with little regard for truth, either historical or human. Post-colonial writers like Walcott have always been viscerally aware of the effects of this, because they come from places that have born the brunt of its damage. I wonder if it’s time for more Western writers to engage with this awareness.

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Guest Post, Courtney Mauk: On the Value of Nosiness

Sometimes on the subway my husband and I play a game. We choose a person and silently take in the details, from the obvious physical characteristics to the more subtle indicators of who this person is and what type of life he or she might lead (Is that a wedding ring? What’s the title of the book he’s reading, and is he really reading it? Why does she keep checking her watch? Look how she’s noticing her reflection in the window). We assemble narratives, which we share with each other later on, using the observed details to explain and defend until we combine our efforts into one story of a stranger we will most likely never see again. Some might call us nosy, but I prefer to think of us as curious. Either way, my husband and I are shameless. At restaurants we eavesdrop. One of us will catch a juicy tidbit at the next table and widen our eyes, and whatever conversation we were having will stop as we both lean forward and listen.

I have been a people-watcher all my life, and my home, New York City, is the perfect place to indulge. People are endlessly fascinating with their complexities and contradictions, their histories and quirks. But what really pulls me in is the raw humanness we all share—that mash-up of love, uncertainty, fear, and want swirling around just below the surface. We are more alike than we are different, yet these common vulnerabilities are the ones we guard most carefully, ashamed and afraid of the judgment of others, or even ourselves. When we let those vulnerabilities slip through—that is a moment of beauty.

If asked why I write, I could give many answers: compulsion; the joy of words; the freedom in creation; a desire to leave a mark, however small, on the world. But, really, I write for the same reason I read, and the same reason I people-watch: to learn about others and try to get at that common, messy human core. My novel, Spark, addresses subjects that have interested me for a long time; I’ve written elsewhere about my initial inspiration and the research involved. But the actual act of putting pen to paper began with one character, the narrator, Andrea. Her name came to me on a walk one afternoon and with it a feeling of anguish; I understood that she was a woman fighting to gain control and losing badly, although I didn’t know why yet. I wrote her name down in my notebook and began listing everything about her. From there, the relationships then the themes of the book revealed themselves to me.

Almost all my fiction begins this way, with one character coming up to me out of the ether. As I write, I feel that character pulling me along, as if the story is already there, the character impatient for me to uncover it. I’m sure my people-watching has helped, the details filed away in my subconscious for later use.

In my writing I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to bring out that messy human core as completely, or with as much clarity, as I would like, but it gives me something to strive for. And in the process, I find myself feeling more connected to those beautiful strangers on the subway.

Intern Highlight: Marie Lazaro

Interview Editor Marie Lazaro is a senior at Arizona State University. She will be graduating in December from the School of Letters and Sciences with a degree in Literature: Writing and Film. Upon graduating, she plans on broadening her horizons with hopes of writing for TV and movies as well as continuing to find work within the industry of magazines. Originally from New Jersey, she plans on heading back east to New York City to experience the lifestyle and find possible job opportunities before ultimately returning back to Arizona. This is her first semester with Superstition Review.

In the link below, Marie shares some of her experience with online literary magazines.

Marie Lazaro


Launch of Issue 7: Art

Superstition Review Issue 7 has launched and to celebrate we will be featuring blog posts about our artists and authors. To kick off launch week we will be highlighting a few of the talented artists who are featured in Issue 7.

Eleanor Leonne Bennett is a 15-year-old artist and photographer who won the National Geographic Kids Photography Contest and the World Photography Organization’s Photomonth Youth award in 2010. She was the only person from the UK to be placed in National Geographic’s See The Bigger Picture Photography Competition and the youngest person to be exhibited with Charnwood Art’s Vision 09 exhibition. She has had her photography exhibited around the world in galleries in Europe, Asia and America and has been showcased in many magazines including the most popular children’s magazine in the world, NG Kids. View her photography featured in issue 7. Eleanor Bennett’s Website

Christy Puetz uses beadwork as her main medium. Her 3-dimensional beaded forms have surfaces covered with colorful, organic patterns. Her current work focuses on shape-shifting. The work subtly addresses the issues of the different faces we each put forth given our current surroundings and the eventual effect it has on who we become as a whole – a conglomeration of parts of different creatures. She uses taxidermy animal forms and transforms them into creatures, not yet in existence, but in the process of changing form, color, and purpose. View her creations in issue 7. Christy Puetz’s Website

Cyndy Carstens’ paintings of expansive skies & infinite distances represent an ultimate freedom of the soul grounded by images beckoning sensations of breath & struggles, rest & trials. Subject matter fluctuates between the recognizable & the abstract using color & texture to move the eye across a horizon of musical notes singing of peace and harmony. Carstens’ paintings can be found in private & corporate collections across the U.S. & Canada. Her work has been featured in many exhibitions including Manhattan Arts International’s “The Healing Power of Art” (New York, NY) and most recently has been honored with an Artist of Distinction Award & representation from Stillpoint Gallery of Brunswick, ME. View her painting, “Solitude” in issue 7. Cyndy Carstens’s Website

Sabrina Peros is an emerging artist in Phoenix, AZ. Ms. Peros began drawing and painting at a young age, eventually studying and graduating from The School of Visual Arts (New York) with a BFA in 2002. Some of her highlights include Featured Artist of the Month at The Paper Heart Gallery, Phoenix, Mills Pond House Gallery, St. James, NY, and resident artist at Space 55, Phoenix. View her four paintings featured in issue 7. Sabrina Peros’s Website

William D. Hicks is a writer who lives in Chicago, Illinois. His poetry appears in LITSNACK, Amaranthine Muses, Highland Park Poetry, Cannoli Pie Magazine, Outburst Magazine, The Legendary, Horizon Magazine, Breadcrumb Sins, Inwood Indiana Literary Magazine, The Short Humour Site (UK), The Four Cornered Universe, Save the Last Stall for Me and Mosaic. Cover art is on The Blank Page Handbook and Anti-Poetry. View his photographs in issue 7.

 

 

The full magazine with featured art and artists can be found here. Check back tomorrow to read about the fiction authors featured in Issue 7.