Kevin Sonmor has been exhibiting his paintings in museums and galleries in Canada, the United States and Europe for more than twenty-five years. This vast body of work has been a devoted exploration or map-making of the contemporary condition seen through the lens of the history of painting, in epic form. This history is no longer conventionally seen as a series of periodic developments, with each one climbing on the shoulders of the previous, but as a flattened and layered field into which the contemporary artist explores across and down into, drawing up remnants, recovering fragments and reorganizing them into images that express a constant retracing over familiar terrain in search of new and challenging possibilities that wield validity in the present.
If the contemporary condition is characterized by dealing with dead ends ̶ the collapse of both history’s grand narratives of progress and the endless idealization of the limitlessness of nature without concern for its effects upon ourselves, materially and psychologically ̶ then what remains is a turnabout to face our own limits, and a realization that out of these losses one must constrain and reinvent. Like a wanderer cast upon a terrain that is boundless and familiar, whose only recourse is to trace and retrace steps already taken, the challenge becomes one of cartographic revision: to mark out new meanings from the overlooked, the obscure and the marginalized. As a painter with the command and interest to draw from his great understanding of the medium’s history from the 15th century to the present, Sonmor is uniquely positioned to remap with his painting.
To say that Sonmor’s work lies between abstraction and representation does it a certain disservice. While he does deploy abstraction’s flatness and the effects of depth associated with representational painting, particularly those of chiaroscuro, he has also at times affixed objects to his paintings, added text, and turned to Orthodox icons for inspiration. His overall motive is not to wed abstraction and representation but to achieve a balance despite these now discordant and outdated ways of reading paintings. To achieve such a balance he employs the entire gamut of painting techniques, from the delicate to the muscular in creating his compositions, and just as often subverts them, wresting finality and equipoise from a struggle between impulses that are fundamentally Dionysian and Apollonian ̶ the Wild and the Tamed. The completed works challenge us to not be distracted by their grottoes, illusionistic waterfalls, bunches of grapes and expertly rendered horses, but to consider the inherent complexity with which improbable contrasts and incongruous, isolated elements are able to defy common categories of seeing and understanding. Sonmor’s self-set task is to move through the overly-familiar terrain of the contemporary world and, by re-marking it out through a deliberate search for unfamiliar but meaningful associations with the ever-present possibilities of futility or bold discovery always close by, to recover the power that painting may yet possess to completely alter how we see, and consequently, how we see the world.
Anthony CollinsDownload the artist biography