Friday, November 23, 2007

Art Space Talk: Sonya Sklaroff

Sonya Sklaroff is inspired by the urban landscape. From her studio in SoHo she captures the energy and character of New York City. Her paintings frequently include water towers, fire escapes, street lamps, and other seemingly mundane elements of the NYC infrastructure. However, these structures are just one aspect of her paintings-- at the core of her work is a strong interest in abstraction. Sonya challenges herself with different methods of composition, contrasting elements of light and dark, complementarycolors, and negative space.

School Bus in Times Square, oil on panel, 36x48

Brian Sherwin: Sonya, you studied at Rhode Island School of Design and Parsons School of Design. Can you tell us about these experiences? Who were your instructors? What kind of student were you?

Sonya Sklaroff: Studying at RISD was an amazing experience. I was surrounded by students who were so similar to me: dedicated and creative artists who enjoyed working in the studio all day and all night. The Freshman Foundation program was one of the most challenging and best years of my life; I was forced to use new materials and think in a whole new way. I carved a rock, made a paper mache tree installation, learned to bind a book, learned to use a glue gun, and sculpted in foam core.

During my junior year I concentrated on painting portraits. Of all the instructors who supported and influenced my work, one to single out is David Frazer. He was positive and energetic; we keep in touch and he continues to be an inspiration. Additionally Susan Vander Closter, my literature professor, opened up a whole new world for me with books by Nobakov, Wharton, Gogol, Stendhal, and so many others. I remember working on a portrait in painting class, and when the model would take a break, I’d whip out and read a page or two of Virginia Woolf!

I had already spent a few years as a professional artist by the time I did my graduate work at the Parsons School of Design. The best aspect of Parsons was the visiting faculty: each week I’d have a different well-known artist in my studio to critique my work. One of the highlights was having Faith Ringgold as a graduate critic. Her encouragement and her insights had a great influence on me.
Five Water Towers at Dusk, oil on panel, 30x30

BS: Sonya, in regards to the European Honors Program in Rome, Italy... can you tell us about RISD's selection process? How did your experience in Rome influence you as an artist?

SS: RISD selected 25 students to attend the one-year program in Rome. Candidates were required to have excellent grades and also have written recommendations from RISD faculty. In Providence, I had focused my junior year on portraiture. But during my senior year in Rome, I was fascinated by the architecture and the daily life in Italy. After a while, I set aside my portrait painting and instead opted to go out and draw in my sketchbook all day long. I drew the buildings, the people in the piazzas, sculptures, the cafes, and churches. I still look back at these sketchbooks. I realized during my year in Rome that I needed to explore and record the outside world, transferring a larger space onto a canvas.

BS: Sonya, you have stated that the urban landscape inspires you-- have you always had a love for it? Why does it touch you?

SS: The urban landscape supplies me with an excuse to play with light and shadow, complementary color, and composition. I never tire of New York City because it continually provides me with new images depending on the time of day, the weather, and my mood. The city has an intense intermingling of light and darkness, and the architecture creates a wide variety of negative space shapes like you don’t really find anywhere else.
Three Water Towers and Red Sky, oil on panel, 30x30

BS: Sonya, would you like to discuss how you mesh a realistic or representational approach with an abstract perspective? Your work is not simply about buildings and the NYC infrastructure... tell us what is at the core of these works...

SS: Even though my paintings are derived from life, I focus on abstract ideas. Composition is the most important element to my paintings. I may start a painting and if it is not working, then I may add or subtract something to enhance the composition. In this way I am not relying solely on realism. I also will not remain true to life when I’m working on the color. If a sky is a warm tone, I may change it to red. If a building is sunlit, I may exaggerate the color of it. The subjects and scene are only a starting point.
Water Tower and Lamp Post, oil on panel, 30x30

BS: In your work you often capture aspects of the city that are overlooked by most people. Upon viewing your work the viewer is reminded of what can be conveyed through the most mundane of structures. How do you 'see' the city, so to speak-- how do you decide upon the sections that you utilize within the context of your work?

SS: I am drawn to the more rugged and older parts of the city. Like any living organism, a building or neighborhood must mature; it develops character over time. I love the silhouetted dark shapes of the water towers against the bright sky, or the patterns of the fires capes. Many who envision New York, think of the Empire State Building or the skyline. I love to paint the New York that people tend to walk by. If I do paint the Empire State Building or another famous landmark, it is generally not the main focus of the painting.

BS: Can you discuss your process? How do you start a painting? Do you see the image in your mind first? Do you draw it out? When do you know that you have observed something that you must capture?

SS: I know when I have to paint something by the feeling I get when I look at the scene. It may be one particular element – like a sliver of light hitting the street at an angle. I work on a colored burnt sienna or yellow ochre ground, and usually sketch out the composition with an ultramarine blue wash mixed with a lot of turpentine directly onto the panel. I’ve been using a lot of Windsor and Newton Liquin, a fast drying medium that gives the paint a rich viscosity and varies the shine of the paint. I also work on panel and not canvas. I love the firmness of the panel and how it provides me with a slick surface and no bounce as I’m painting.

Cafe in the Snow, oil on panel, 24x24

BS: Sonya, what are you working on at this time?

SS: Right now I’m working on lots of paintings for my upcoming solo shows in 2008 and 2009. While the work for these shows is almost all cityscapes, I also find time to go out to the country to paint outdoors, en plein air, and work on smaller colorful paintings of the fall foliage, old Victorian houses, and quaint towns. My last two painting trips were to Nyack, New York, and Gloucester, Massachusetts. Focusing on a different subject matter helps to keep my work fresh. I try to travel often to constantly add new subjects to my visual vocabulary. This adds a new dimension to my cityscapes.

BS: Where can our readers observe your work? Are you represented by a gallery? Do you have a website?

SS: My personal website is I am currently represented by a number of galleries: David Findlay Galleries in New York; Jenkins Johnson Gallery in San Francisco, CA; Sparts Gallery in Paris, France; Cavalier Galleries in Nantucket, MA and Greenwich, CT; Lagalery in St. Paul de Vence, France; and Galerie des Remparts in Bordeaux, France. I also have an art agent in New York, Odile Gorse, whose website is Until February 2008 you can see my work on view at the Corning Gallery at Steuben Glass (667 Madison Avenue) in New York.

Winner on Canal, oil on panel, 36x48

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your work or your love for NYC?

SS: I love New York City because of its architecture, the people, and the endless inspiration that it supplies me for my work. But I think the things I love most about New York are the little things that I notice when I’m walking out my door every morning to go to my studio. The taxicabs rushing by, the trash trucks collecting garbage, the people walking briskly to work, the smell of the street vendors selling roasted chestnuts and pretzels and hot dogs, the rumble of the subway under my feet, the steam seeping out of street manhole covers… I walk outside every morning and think how lucky I am to be here.

You can learn more about Sonya Sklaroff by visiting her website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

4 comments: said...

Your paintings are astonishing. Congratulations to you on all of your brilliant work and may you receive the world of success and attention that you so obviously deserve. I almost don't have words to convey the impression your work has given me, except to say it is magnificent and quiet and peaceful and extremely beautiful. I think it's wonderful also, that Art Space Talk has highlighted your work conducted their interview with you and other artists of your caliber. It's a wonderful time for women artists and it's wonderful that you are young too, at a time when the world is your oyster in every sense of the word. I think it's great that you have European connections because, sadly, and most people know, the US is still a very closed "old-young-white-boy" kind of place where women don't have as much attention as they hopefully do elsewhere, in Europe perhaps. Whatever the case may or may not be, your work is tremendous and so, many congratulations to you and continued success.

Warm regards,

Anonymous said...

Way to go Sonya!
Loved your interview

David said...

Great work! Love to learn more about it!

Anonymous said...

Sista! Wow, I finally sat down to read this interview and I am so impressed with the intelligent questions and provocative and insightful answers
you have shared with myartspace blog.

After knowing you for 17 or 18 years, I can safely merit every bit of press, praise and sales! (Lots and lots of sales!)