When viewing Sonny’s artwork you are pulled in by each detailed layer. Fragmented translucent brushstrokes tell a devastating truth of our planet and the extinction of what we should protect most. On May 17th, 2018, in New York, Sonny exhibited his first body of large-scale canvas works, as well as a series of hand-painted sculptures, entitled, “To the Bone.” His message dissected the importance of each animal and the relationship it had to its specific habitat. Parts of the animal painted in gold represent the value of these animals.
“Bringing us face-to-face with a wild world on the brink of extinction” – Sonny S.
An Advocate for Our Animal Kingdom
“Genuine means staying true to my art. Persevering & creating work that is truly unique, at my highest level and in line with my beliefs. Authentic messages that do not sway from my truth for anybody else’s gain.” – SONNY
What was one of the biggest obstacles you had to overcome when moving from Manchester to South Africa? How did it shape you as an artist?
I moved to South Africa with my family at ten years old, so I was pretty young. As you can imagine it was totally different from the place I grew up in and what I was used to, so it was pretty tough at the beginning. But I quickly fell in love with the country, its people, and its wildlife. Being able to see these incredible animals existing in the wild had a huge impact on me as a child, and is something that has stayed with me ever since. Overcoming this obstacle motivates my work and animals have always been front and center in my art from the very beginning.
Is there a documentary or news story that influenced you strongly and provoke change?
It has to be ‘Virunga’, a documentary about the Congo and the world’s last remaining mountain gorillas. I was always passionate about wildlife, but watching this film was the last straw for me and it really made me feel compelled to do something. I was sick and tired of just feeling helpless about the situation. The film actually inspired my first canvas painting for my ‘To The Bone’ project.
Through the project, I painted ten large-scale murals around the world, from Miami and New York to Vladivostok, Ireland, and Canada, all to raise awareness for endangered species, and then put on a solo exhibition in New York where I raised over $15,000 for conservation.
If you could bring back one animal from extinction what animal would you choose and why?
I think any animal that has gone extinct is a tragedy for humanity and the world. That said, the extinction of the West African Black rhino and the Northern white rhino (which is soon to be extinct too) is a truly heartbreaking story that really hits home for me with the rhino being such an iconic animal for Africa. The fact that they were driven to extinction largely through poaching and illegal hunting, makes this tragedy all the more devastating.
The greed and ignorance of man will come back to haunt us.
How does art create authenticity?
With the artist as well as the viewer?
As an artist, I can only do my best to create work that stays true to my own unique style and the themes that I believe are important to convey through the work. But the viewer may have an entirely different experience of my art than the one I intended or had in mind. It may speak to them in a way I had never thought of before. This is one of my favorite things about visual art, it’s so subjective that everyone will experience it in a way that is unique and authentic to them.
What type of awareness would you implement to shape our global legacy and impact climate change?
Well, I’m just an artist so I’ll leave these things to the experts, scientists, and politicians. It’s a really complicated situation and I definitely don’t have the solutions. That said, it’s clear that we need to make a global move towards renewable energy, and fast.
To do that I feel that there needs to be a lot more pressure on big businesses to become more sustainable. I also believe that we should all do what small things we can to help improve our world and take better care of our planet. As an artist, I feel that my role is to bring all the awareness I can to these issues through my work. When my work speaks to people, I want it to say something of meaning, something that will stick with people and make them think about what they’re doing to be a part of the solution and what they stand to lose.
What do you have planned for your next exhibit? Talk to us about the message and context.
I started painting with oils last year so at the moment I’m just enjoying bringing new work and concepts into the mix. It’s nice to be able to experiment a bit without having a big body of work to focus on. I’ve just started working with sculpture more too, both small and large, which is really exciting.
That said, the messages and concepts in my work are much the same, with a focus on conservation and environmental awareness. I did become a bit obsessed with white tigers recently and made a series of paintings in their honor. Not only are they uniquely beautiful but they also have a really sad, yet powerful story. They’re such an anomaly (with 1 in 15,000 chance of occurring naturally) that the last white tiger in the wild was seen in 1958, and was shot by a trophy hunter. Only one male tiger remained in captivity, kept in a zoo as a tourist attraction, and forced to breed in an unhealthy way that messed with their genetics. The white tiger’s rarity, power, and beauty saw it become a mythological creature in many eastern cultures.
In Chinese culture, it was said that the white tiger would only appear when the emperor ruled with absolute virtue, or if there was peace throughout the world. We can only hope that in the future the world will know peace and the wild white tiger will rise again!
“The endless balancing act between realism and abstract, precision and freedom, patience and recklessness, perfection, and chaos.” – Sonny
Switching mediums from acrylics to oil paints, Sonny’s most recent paintings see him exploring a variety of exciting new techniques, incorporating abstract and urban qualities into his strikingly realistic wildlife portraits.
Follow Sonny on Instagram @sonnysundancer – Find him online www.sonnyonline.com