Disillusioned kings, delicate angels, neon tribes and a host of other fantastical figures inhabit Sonny Singh’s visual vocabulary. Drawing heavily from graffiti and street art, where artistic expression almost always marks territorial space, Sonny moulds his display space, his own gallery The Cube, and the images within that space to create a design kingdom unequivocally his own.
The Cube becomes the experimental and creative base from which he charts his design explorations. Sonny draws upon an entire spectrum of skills achieved over a lifetime. His hybrid artistic background is formed by diverse creative practices including those of architecture, photography, graphic design and experimental animation. He takes the principles and practices of fine arts and imbues them with his own individualistic imprint. There are no rules or formalized self-conscious images – only a multitude of possibilities and the startling result is that Sonny goes where the image takes him be it on wood canvases and in liquid chalk or acrylic spray pens. Although he shares the theoretical background of an artist, being an alumnus of Cal Arts, Sonny takes on the role of a designer here. His passion lies in designing an image that resonates with the viewer, creating some kind of an emotional impact. And while the vibrant images may be experiments in design they do tend to lean towards the artistic side of things.
Columns are placed to divide the gallery into three spaces leading the viewer deep into the space to engage with the multiple expressive possibilities of media. Through the jail-like columns viewers can catch glimpses of the works; the non-linearity underlining the fluidity of the works on display. The boundaries between décor and art, age old tradition and new media are blurred and this ambivalence lends his work an intriguing layer of interest. As a picture-maker, Sonny is always willing to take risks and explore approaches to his work without the pressure to conform. For him, art should above all be an experience.
And so we are gently led into and subtly immersed in this visually explosive experience. In of a tribe, we move around an efflorescent installation of Maori tribals, a series of paintings suspended from the ceiling. Primal forms reinvigorated in neon colours, the raw energy and unexpected juxtaposition fill the space with the promise of hope. These vigorous works celebrate the revival of the tribe and are a powerful beacon of humanity, eloquent of their validity and vitality. They can be viewed from any angle, suspended as they are as mobiles. Time and time again, through the show, we are reminded that there are as many ways of viewing as there are viewers. The adventurous designer experiments with the process and material of image creation as well as the ways in which viewers perceive a work.
Given his strong association with experimental animation, it is not unusual to hear Sonny speak of a painting as a scene. In Fast Forward some of the images are culled from the memory of a film he has long wanted to make.
Spraying, splotching, mottling – painterly techniques influenced by action painting are used to process pared down yet high contrast colorized images on wooden canvases. Human suffering and a general concern for the human condition imbue these cinematic stills with a poetic poignance. Sonny uses his acrylic markers with bold flair, adding texture and depth to scenes grounded in his leanings towards animating images.
Quick Takes displays the designer’s ease with the worlds of graffiti and street art. Sonny presents stencilled silhouettes in various stages of escape from a dystopian world riven by rabid overconsumption, mass materialism and corrupted values. Stencil is probably the most popular technique used in graffiti and street art worldwide, its popularity stemming from practical considerations like being easy to reproduce fast. Its speed of execution meant artists could disappear before being caught by the police. Today’s artists use it to create highly sophisticated stenciled artworks. Sonny configures idealistic cities where his vulnerable figures escape to live on electrical wires that run overhead. The precisely formed images foregrounded on empty cityscapes simultaneously warn of a desolate future as much as optimistically promise escape to a better one.
Frequently inserting himself in his images, Sonny Singh is self-reflective of his design process, a process of studying his own image and identity. Is he primarily artist, photographer, architect, gallerist or film-maker or seeker of new possibilities? Preferring to be an image maker and always sensitive to the potential of new material – Sonny introduces a new element, working in liquid chalk to create lustrous images. The work gets a startlingly new look and takes on a new life.
We move between the montage of the tribals, the speckled scenes and the stenciled figures but there is a spatial-visual logic between all these shots, making a composite visual scene for the viewer, forming a cohesive stylistic vocabulary, where all the parts return to reinforce and strengthen the whole.
These images, always evolving, always turning to something new give viewers a sense of the poetic and the fantastical, the bizarre and the idealistic and above all else, the honest and the authentic.