INTERVIEWED BY Amelia Brown
Acclaimed South African artist Sonny has recently completed a global street art tour and sold-out exhibition in New York, which has helped raise funds and awareness for endangered wildlife.
Entitled To The Bone and showcasing endangered animals from around the world, Sonny’s aim was to paint large-scale murals and exhibit his work in as many locations as possible. He shares the highlights of this two-year passion project…
How did you get into street art and develop your style?
Well, my first-ever painting was on a wall – a mural I painted in our band’s room. At the time, I had a growing passion for street art, so I pushed the indoor murals and quickly got to the streets. My style has been ever-changing really, influenced by many things like my surroundings, interests and street art itself. I try to push my work so that I’m able to express certain ideas or feelings, and really enjoy the whole process and where the journey takes me.
How much has the South African context influenced your work?
South Africa has influenced my work hugely. I moved here from England when I was 10 years old and living here has kept me connected to nature with wildlife becoming one of the primary subjects of my work. Living here has also made me very aware of the issues that these animals face, which has in turn influenced me to take action and use my work to raise awareness and money for these issues. Through my travels, especially to big cities, it’s interesting to see how often people are totally cut off from nature and unaware of the dire situation that the world’s wildlife is in.
You travel extensively. Where do you call home now? And, if you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
South Africa is home for me, although I sadly don’t get to spend that much time here at the moment. It’s hard to say where I would live; I haven’t seen it all yet!
You have just finished the To The Bone tour. Can you share some highlights?
The tour had many highlights. I loved painting in big cities and faraway places and meeting incredible people along the way. A standout moment had to be getting the opportunity to trek through restricted Russian forests where wild tigers roam.
If you weren’t an artist, what would you be?
I’d probably (want to) be a musician (whether that could have become a reality is another thing!).
What are you working on at the moment?
A new body of work of paintings set in a far-off future. A lost humanity veers off their path of destructive advancement in favour of a more tribal connection to the ancient wisdoms, the earth we live on, and the creatures we share it with.
It’s meant I’ve introduced humans into my work, so things have gotten interesting! I’ve also started pushing a new style that is a mix between realism and abstraction. To be able to achieve this in my work on canvas, I’ve had to adapt to a new medium– oils – so it’s been a bit of a learning process, but I think I’m getting the hang of it now.
What, or who, inspires you?
I’m inspired by people and what they can do, by stories of defiance, survival and success. The whole creative world inspires me, from art to music and even fashion. There are so many creatives pushing boundaries it definitely keeps me on my toes and striving to do the same and make this world epic!
If you could collaborate with a South African artist who would it be?
Tough question! There’s so much local talent, it’s impossible to pick just one.
Do you have a career highlight?
I’ve had many incredible moments recently and dreams becoming reality. I would say my solo show in NYC recently would be right up there. To see people queueing round the block in such a famous city… It was pretty surreal.
What is the last piece of art you purchased?
My girlfriend and I recently bought an awesome piece by local artist r1. His work is amazing. Check him out on Instagram @r1art.
Are there any other cool artists we should be following?