John Sonsini at Acme
ArtUS, March 2006
by Eve Wood
John Sonsini, whose paintings are currently up at Acme in LA, encourage private confidences and deepen the viewer's perception of intimacy. Sonsini continues his exploration of the nuanced expression in these small, boldly rendered paintings of Hispanic day laborers. Sonsini equivocates nothing, and holds us, as viewers, to the same stringent self evaluation, yet oddly, we are not abashed by what we find here. Rather, we are temporarily dismayed by all that goes unsaid, and ultimately encouraged by our own fascination.
Painted with thick, and in some cases nearly heretical strokes, these small paintings challenge us with the sheer force of exactly what they are: images of extraordinary honesty.
Painted on solid colored backgrounds, some blue, some green, some a light salmon, and arranged in a grid, these images strive not for beauty, but for a kind of linear candidness where each image seems to float in a hyperreal space. The danger in arranging such deeply personal images in a grid formation, is that the structure overwhelm the individual portrait, but in this case, Sonsini's chosen arrangement of four across, four down, works to further punctuate the inherent power of each man's gaze, creating, in essence, a single visionary unit wherein each image enhances the next.
Looking at these faces, we get the sense that these are men who do not trust easily, and some may even have been betrayed, and the fact they are looking out at the artist and at us now, means somehow a breach has been sewn up between where they've come from and all that they know, and where they find themselves, being in effect celebrated, at least for the time they are sitting for the artist. It is not important that we know their stories, and indeed it is probably better we don't since the power of this work lies in its ambiguity and the strength of each man's gaze. What came before in each man's life informs their faces, and serves as a steady weight behind their eyes, and that's really all we need. Each painting is named for each man, and again there is a real sense that the artist is accounting on all fronts for the complexity of not only the face and expression, but the whole of a deeply personal history. That Sonsini achieves this not once, but over and over, giving each man his place in his creative lexicon, is amazing and strangely moving.
I say we could learn a lot from Sonsini -- about how to be generous, honest and present not in the service of vanity and personal gain, but for the simple reason that each life must be achieved and recognized. Bravo!