Sonhouse’s deftly painted figures combine classical technical sensibility with an irreverent approach to color and material. Drawing upon the art historical legacy of portraiture as well as his own, unique visual language, honed over many years, Sonhouse populates his works with characters both particular and general. His ominous, surreal compositions feature black male figures that are highly charged and curiously anonymous. Their manifold potency suggests a range of psychological narratives that engage the viewer in their unraveling, and which move away from racial specificity, offering the possibility of a more open-ended, humanistic interpretation. In that spirit, Sonhouse’s use of vernacular materials is meaningful conceptually and formally; it lures the viewer away from a formulated reading toward a removed and renewed visual experience. Indeed, Sonhouse often incorporates steel wool or matchsticks in his compositions, painstakingly whittled and adhered to the finished canvas before being lit, resulting in the presence of something smoky, scorched. Here, the notion of “baptism by fire” is evoked; rebirth through crisis. This echoes Sonhouse’s challenge to the viewer, who is pushed to re-see the representation of black male identity through the artist’s alighting prism.
Jeff Sonhouse: Entrapment