Vonn Sumner’s Solo “Late Empire Style” – Press Release

30 Aug

Morton Fine Art


Solo Exhibition of New Paintings by Vonn Sumner

September 16 – October 7, 2011



Friday, September 16th, 2011   6 – 8 pm


Morton Fine Art (MFA) presents Late Empire Style, a solo exhibition of new paintings by artist Vonn Sumner. The exhibition will be on display at Morton Fine Art from September 16 through October 7,  2011. The opening reception will be held on September 16th from 6 to 8 pm with the artist in attendance.


Sumner Invite

Vonn Sumner (b. Palo Alto, CA; paintings and drawings): his fancifully eccentric characters appear in paintings which invite the viewer into a strange and isolated parallel world.  Vonn Sumner’s markedly West Coast aesthetic was honored with a solo museum exhibition, The Other Side of Here, at Riverside Art Museum in late 2008.  His solo show Late Empire Style at MFA runs concurrently with the artist’s second museum solo exhibition Stages at The Phillips Museum of Art in Pennsylvania.  An understudy of Wayne Thiebaud, Vonn Sumner received his MFA from the University of California, Davis. His work has been shown in numerous galleries in the U.S. and Europe.Late Empire Style
The show features a new series of full-figure paintings and several paintings of truncated and adorned still-life object-like figures for which Sumner is mostly known. The figures appear at first to be warriors from some ancient culture but upon close view they are revealed to be contemporary people, wearing sneakers and wielding not a sword and shield but a common garbage can lid and a comically elongated paintbrush. In a few paintings the “warriors” strike poses of aggression or exaltation, but more often they adopt incongruously downbeat, pathetic postures. Cast against spare and atmospheric color-field backdrops, the effect of these figures suggests a kind of post-modern Don Quixote- romantic, full of conviction, absurdly out of place and out of step. In these figures one can find echoes of depictions of warriors and battle stretching from ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt, through the Siennese and Florentine Renaissance, to Poussin and Goya, and modern masters including de Chirico and Guston. Beyond mere appropriation, Sumner’s figures perform a kind of rhyming ritual with art from throughout history. More contemporary touchstones include the 20thcentury superheroes of DC and Marvel Comics as well as the tragic and hilarious characters portrayed by the great film clowns such as Buster Keaton. Rounding out the show are some non-figure paintings- buildings, cityscapes, a landscape, a cat- serving as palette-cleansers, providing context, and creating associations with the figures.Based in Los Angeles for most of the past decade, Sumner belongs to a generation of young figurative painters who emerged in the 2000s with work that aimed to redefine figure-painting upward: away from academic preciousness and predictability and toward a more imaginative, metaphoric, and theatrical picture making practice. These painters embrace the craft and tradition of classical figure painting while maintaining a sense of playful irreverence and an eye toward the strategies and aesthetics of Modernist abstract painting, conceptual art, comics and cartoons. Along with artists such as Michael Borremans, Julie Heffernan, and those of the so-called New Leipzig School, Sumner is part of a wave of painters with renewed interest in representation and figuration who have helped to open back up the possibilities for painting people after the seeming exhaustion of the genre felt during the bottleneck of fin-de-siècle art at the end of the last century. The practitioners of this new figure painting favor personal and ambiguous narrative over grand statements, muted or dirty tones over bright and cheery colors, and often share a suggestion of mystical or religious yearnings. In this new figure painting the notion of an overarching narrative is replaced by the suggestive or symbolic relationship between the environments where the figure finds his or her self and the figure’s own body language. The paintings in this show are an excellent example of Sumner’s contribution to this recent strain of painting.

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