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.
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.
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.
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: My personal website is www.sonyasklaroff.com. 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 www.goartonline.com. 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.