Meet The Artist Who Pays Latino Day Laborers To Be Subjects In His Paintings
Meet John Sonsini.
A photo posted by Eric Minh Swenson (@ericminhswenson) on
CREDIT: @ericminhswenson / Instagram
A Los Angeles-based artist who originally hails from New York, Sonsini has spent more than a decade painting Latino day laborers.
Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, Sonsini originally focused on painting nudes, but a conversation with a day laborer took him in a new direction.
A photo posted by Suzanne Unrein (@stunrein) on
CREDIT: @stunrein / Instagram
In 2001, Sonsini was painting in his Los Angeles studio when he struck up a conversation with a Latino day laborer who was cleaning outside. After learning that the man performed odd jobs, Sonsini decided to hire the laborer for an hourly rate with a new very odd job — as his artistic subject.
The day laborer, Gabriel, soon became Sonsini’s partner in crime.
A photo posted by Vincent Maxime Daudin (@soune21) on
CREDIT: @soune21 / Instagram
Soon, Sonsini was painting other day laborers too.
Credit: John Sonsini / artsy.net
“It was my partner Gabriel’s idea to approach the guys gathering for work in the neighborhood of our studio. So the notion of painting dayworkers grew entirely out of my need to have sitters who were available to work daily in the studio,” he said in an interview with the Huffington Post.
Sonsini’s pays his subjects which can sit for him as long as two weeks.
A photo posted by Douglas F Maxwell (@dfmaxwell) on
CREDIT: @dfmaxwell / Instagram
“I always pay my sitters, because this is work, and I like it to be treated as work,” said Sonsini in an interview with The Stranger.
Why is Sonsini drawn to day laborers? Because he can relate.
A photo posted by Ronnit Vasserman (@artconnectgroup) on
CREDIT: @artconnectgroup / Instagram
Sonsini told The Stranger, “Anyone who’s out on the street in the middle of the day looking for work, yes, that’s my kind of person, because that’s what I was doing at that age.”
If you look at enough of his work, you’ll notice lots of defiant stares and somber expressions.
Ameringer | McEnery | Yohe is open today from 10am-6pm. Stop by and check out our exhibition of recent paintings by John Sonsini. The exhibition is on view through 12 March 2016. Image: John Sonsini, Louie, 2015, Oil on canvas, 72 x 48 inches, 182.9 x 121.9 cm #ameringermceneryyohe#johnsonsini#onview#recentworks#portraits#oiloncanvas#daylaborers#john#sonsini
A photo posted by Ameringer | McEnery | Yohe (@525w22) on
CREDIT: @525w22 / Instagram
In each of Sonsini’s paintings, the subject’s eyes definitely tell a story. Is it defiance? Bravery? The audacity to move to a new land with only a few items in a suitcase? This powerful image of Louie poignantly shows that some of these men own only the literal shirts on their back.
What does it all mean? It’s up to you.
Although he has focused on painting day laborers for more than a decade, Sonsini says he’s not trying to send a specific message in his work. “Sometimes I try to recreate a facial expression, or bodily gesture, but I try to steer away from trying to convey anything personal or biographical about the sitter. I like all that to be very open, far preferring the viewer to make of it what they will,” said Sonsini to The Huffington Post.
Are you a fan of these Latino day laborer paintings? If you want to share the power of art, hit the share button below!