Tag Archives: Los Angeles

John Seed on VONN SUMNER in Huffington Post

12 Aug

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Vonn Sumner: The Crowd Within

08/09/2016 09:52 pm ET
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“Within any one person there are crowds of people, different characters that show themselves at different times.” – Gay Talese

Vonn Sumner, Crowd, Oil on linen, 66 x 60 inches

In Vonn Sumner’s new painting Crowd—a kind of group self-portrait—eighteen hooded figures jostle for a place in the lineup. Some, with their eyes hidden, seem to be lost in private reveries, some seem aware of the presence of others, and a few stare out at the viewer, alert and even a bit hostile. One pair of figures seems to attempt a conversation while others look away, beyond the borders of the canvas. Others just sulk.

Crowd (detail)

The individuality of each figure is deflected by his similarity to his moody clones, making any and every variation in posture and facial expression especially telling. The overall effect is decidedly weird, as Sumner seems to be teasing his audience, summoning up their voyeuristic interest while also deflecting it. “I’m willing to tell you some things about myself,” the painting seems to say, “but I’m still wrestling with myself to figure out just what those things might be.”

Crowd somehow manages to be both an image of self-absorption and a set of partial confessions at the same time. It’s about being yourself while finding yourself, and about giving just enough of yourself to others. Sumner has clearly been thinking about his place in the world, but he also knows that over-thinking is a danger: if you don’t put yourself and your ideas out there to face judgment your life may become an eternal funk.

Sock Hat Trash Can III, Oil on linen, 14 x 11 inches

The sock hats that appear in Sumner’s recent paintings are an inexpensive “found object;” they are sold in hardware stores for use during spray painting and wall texturing. The hats remind Sumner of a wide variety of types of headgear including the turbans and other head-coverings he glimpsed in the works of the 15th century Siennese artist il Sassetta, as well as Muslim hijabs and the hoodies of urban teenagers. The artist is content to let all of these references and implications run wild, so that his viewers have to make their own assumptions about whether to be perplexed, threatened or amused by his imagery.

Sock hats on view in Vonn Sumner’s studio

“People tend to be right on,” Sumner muses, “and I honestly don’t care that the characters are all me: its not a goal for them to be me.” In his leanings towards idiosyncratic means—and a hint of comic funk—Sumner bears the influence of U.C. Davis, where his mentors, including Wayne Thiebaud, reminded students that without humor there is a loss of perspective. In regards to the duality of “funny or not” Sumner doesn’t have a preference: “It doesn’t have to be one or the other. As in the works of Philip Guston, I think that imagery can be both tragic and comically absurd at the same time.”

Vonn Sumner

Pink Pop is a portrait of Sumner’s father Richard, whose Palo Alto frame store provided early exposure to art and to the bohemian intellectuals who spilled out the edges of the nearby campus of Stanford University. “He was a magnet for interesting people,” Sumner recalls, “and I certainly benefited from having a front seat in that little theater. I miss it.” The same paradoxes that apply to Sumner’s images of himself apply to those of his father: he is both utterly familiar and somewhat hidden. It’s a reminder that you can love someone while still respecting their mysteries.

Pink Pop, 2016, Oil on linen,18 x 20 inches

Perhaps the greatest strength of Vonn Sumner’s work is that he respects the power of mystery but also understands its limits. Knowing how much to say and how much to withhold is a vital skill for diplomats and painters. Saying too much veers towards gossip and saying too little risks rendering a work of art forgettable, which Sumner’s art most definitely isn’t.

Vonn Sumner: To Be Seen

July 30 – August 27th, 2016

KP Projects

170 S. La Brea

Los Angeles, CA 90036

Artist’s Talk and Walkthrough with Vonn Sumner and John Seed

Saturday, August 20th at 2:30


Click here to view Available Artwork by VONN SUMNER.

VONN SUMNER’s solo “New Ancient Pictures” at Morton Fine Art

10 Nov
Neo Byzantine Square, 24"x24", oil on canvas

Neo Byzantine Square, 24″x24″, oil on canvas

New Ancient Pictures

A solo exhibition of oil paintings by VONN SUMNER
Friday, November 6th – November 24th, 2015

Friday, November 6th 6pm-8pm
Saturday, November 21st 3pm-4pm
Pink Theatre, 24"x24", oil on panel

Pink Theatre, 24″x24″, oil on panel


Morton Fine Art (MFA)
1781 Florida Ave NW (at 18th & U Sts)
Washington, DC 20009
(202) 628-2787

Tuesday – Saturday 11am – 6pm
Sunday 12pm-5pm
Warrior Moving, 2015, 12"x12", oil on panel

Warrior Moving, 2015, 12″x12″, oil on panel

About New Ancient Pictures
In the Spring of 2011, at the Phillips Collection here in Washington, I saw an exhibition of Philip Guston’s paintings made while he was traveling in Rome in 1971. Around the same time I came across the idea that in the original Homeric tales of the Iliad and the Odyssey there is no mention of the color “blue”-that even though those stories take place under skies and over oceans, the color palette of those stories is mostly: red, yellow, black, grey and white. That idea, whether true or not, was exciting to me and related directly to the palette that Guston was using in the Roma pictures. All of this coincided with a time in my life when I have moved several times between states, and across coasts, so that somehow the mythic tales of Homer and the aesthetic travels of Guston felt personally related to my own search for a sense of ‘home’, for personal transformation, and for a feeling of artistic renewal. The paintings in this show are a result of those artistic influences, mixed with my own subjective experience of our shared, observable world.
Mirror, 26.25″x20.75″, oil on canvas
Vonn Sumner in his studio, Courtesy of the Artist
“Vonn Sumner’s fine paintings are equivocal visual wonders. They are painted worlds that reflect a bright clarity interrupted by mysterious bewilderments.
Ideas and concepts are overwhelmed by empathic feelings suspending us in a tension between answers and questions provoking and teasing us into a long and careful looking…perhaps, the look of a lifetime?”
~Wayne Thiebaud, 2015
VONN CUMMINGS SUMNER grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area,
the son of a picture framer in an artistic family. Frequent trips to museums as well as travel in Europe, Central America and India, shaped Sumner’s visual aesthetic during his formative years. He attended the University of California at Davis, where he earned both a Bachelor’s degree and an M.F.A. in painting. While at UC Davis he worked closely with Wayne Thiebaud  both as a student and as a teaching assistant. He also took summer classes at the San Francisco Art Institute and is influenced by the Bay Area Figurative movement that centered around that school in the postwar period.
Sumner has exhibited nationally and internationally since 1997. He has been featured or reviewed in many publications including NewAmerican Paintings, Elle Décor, The Washington Post, L.A. Weekly, Art Ltd., Riviera magazine, Hi Fructose, Juxtapoz, Cartwheel, and featured on the cover of Boom magazine and Quick Fiction. Sumner has had two solo museum exhibitions – Vonn Sumner: The Other Side of Here– at the Riverside Art Museum in 2008 and Vonn Sumner: Stages,  in 2011 at the Phillips Museum of Art in Pennsylvania .