John Sonsini, Luis, Nelson, Adolfo, Geovani, Ramiro, 2005, oil on canvas 82 x 120 inches.
Given the hot-button issue of immigration and politics these days, I wanted to mention an excellent article in the December 2005 issue of Art in America by Michael Duncan: "The Faces of Work." Duncan's essay is a review of paintings by Los Angeles artist John Sonsini.
From the article:
Seemingly coming from left field, Los Angeles artist John Sonsini has given new vigor to the traditional practice of painting portraits from the model. His subjects are not political leaders, celebrities or affluent families but Latino day laborers, whom he quickly, skillfully renders in exuberant strokes of oil paint. Stoked by intuition, as well as by insights gained from conversations with his subjects, Sonsini acknowledges his sitters' individuality. Never reductive or invasive, he captures body language and highlights details of clothing and appearance that hint at the emotional lives of immigrant workers who remain largely invisible in the economic and social currents of the city.
How did Sonsini select his subjects? Here is one anecdote:
For six days a week throughout February 2005, Sonsini painted portraits in the outdoor parking lot of the Hollywood Community Job Center, home to an agency that helps laborers find employment. Each day, after the construction jobs had been assigned, one man among those left behind was selected by lottery and paid $60 to sit for a portrait. That painting would be completed in one marathon session lasting three to five hours.
The act of painting, start to finish, right there in the community had a profound impact on Sonsini:
In the studio, the painting has the authority of a 'work of art.' But under the awning, with fifteen men watching and commenting as I paint their friend, with an auto shop behind me, a little weight training going on in the other corner, sometimes a barbeque, and dozens of men milling about, well ... the painting loses all that authority. It is, without a doubt, 'a painting,' and could not be mistaken for anything else. It was terrific to find that happening.