Updated: Apr 20, 2020
Whenever I see a gallery with a wall or table of artist business cards and coming events, I always make sure to grab whatever looks interesting to me. Recently I was doing my usual, grabbing all of the cards I liked, and I noticed a card with a gnarly sculpture of some sort of female/slug hybrid and I immediately looked this artist up. That’s when I found the work of Eric Sonntag. Sonntag’s sculpture work is a fascinating distortion of the human form; whether it’s distorting the body, morphing human and animal, or making something totally alien, Sonntag’s work is a fascinating abstraction of human features.
But while I was drawn into the very sci-fi style of abstraction in Sonntag’s sculpture, he has a vast body of work that’s very diverse in its styles. Still heavily driven by the human form, Sonntag’s painting abstracts the form in a way that is much more painterly. Usually lending towards portraits, he’ll allow the form to reveal itself but fade or melt away at certain points whether it’s through soft tones or playing up the stroke of the brush. His painting is a different type of abstract that’s much more heavily rooted in representationalism than his sculpture. Further revealing his representational roots and ability, Sonntag has a collection of marvelous figure drawings. Straight forward and beautifully detailed, his drawing work really shows his refined ability in 2D mediums.
Sonntag’s body of work is extremely diverse and all of it has its own unique style and beauty. I was thrilled to get to talk with him about all of his different types of work and how they can exist separately or as a whole portfolio. He gave some really interesting answers and insight, so enjoy the interview and collection of his work!
1. So to begin, I always start off with background. What got you started in art? Any
schooling? Big inspirations? What helped shape you into the artist that you are today?
My early motivators were recurrent nightmares, film, and nature in general. As a young person, I had the go-to bibles of renaissance artists, and also some very explicit medical anatomy books with grotesque images of physical trauma, anomalies and deformities of the human body. I think this is partly why I turned out to be such a well- rounded person, haha! My schooling consisted of running around NYC from The Art Student’s League to the Academy of Figurative Art where I studied with some of my favorite representational painters. Regular visits to major art museums with exposure to the different art genres and objects from antiquity to the modern were crucially important to my development as an artist. Most importantly though, I’m an autodidact.
2. I'd like to begin with your drawing work, your drawings are much more straightforward representations of an artist/model interaction. What is your model drawing process like? Are there a series of practice drawings or do you dive right into it?
I will do a few sketches from the model first before I decide on a pose. Then, I commit to one and start to chip away. I don’t consider myself a representational artist. I use these interactions to learn and build my mental catalog of anatomical imagery. With my more spontaneous and experimental work, I foreground anatomy in an imperfect or altered fashion. I’m fascinated with the human form and have a compulsion to experiment with it in my work. This can be interpreted as jarring or disturbing by the observer simply by manipulating the human form. I think this challenges the observer and the feeling is falsely understood as disturbing, which is unfortunate. The idea of the human form should be challenged in art.
3. Moving forward, in your paintings you take similar representational qualities but begin to abstract the forms? Do your paintings start off similarly to your drawings and then you alter later on? Or is the whole process different?
My process to begin a painting is similar to drawing in that I start with a few preliminary sketches. I’m never quite satisfied with painting in a realistic fashion. I’m attracted to a sort of abstraction or reconstruction of form in both painting and sculpture and I see it as experimentation. I tend to develop the idea as far as I can and allow my imagination to run wild. Unfortunately, my sketch books are rarely seen and they contain some of my strongest ideas and concepts. If I can finish my larger works with the same intensity and boldness as I do in my sketchbooks, I think this will be a great accomplishment.
4. Now onto your sculpture, this is where you really take your strong representational abilities and distort the forms into wild, otherworldly characters. How do your sculptures begin? Are they rigidly planned with character elements already developed or is it more of an organic process? Does it vary?
I rarely have a strict plan laid out for my sculptures unless it’s a commission. I realize the piece will go through many stages and some will fail. I begin a sculpture with a few concept drawings, I decide on scale, then build the armature which is the internal support structure. After that, I go to the clay and begin to sculpt. I’ll use live models, or photographic reference intermittently during the process. I don’t rely heavily on these. They just help guide me through certain aspects of the piece depending on how accurate to life I want to be. So, it’s really a kind of evolution towards the final look. When I worked in the film industry, I would follow predetermined concept drawings and I’d have to stay pretty close to those blueprints. With my personal work I’m not bound to that protocol. I’ll occasionally just start in a direction and see where it takes me. For instance, a sculpture I did called The Lucid Dreamer was mostly designed as I created it. The piece went through many stages and it wasn’t until the end where I started to do some sketches on paper to solidify the design. This is a good example of allowing a piece to evolve as I go.
5. You use the human form a lot in your work but you alter and abstract it in a variety of ways, so what is your relationship to each individual work and process like? How do you decide between straightforward representation and abstracted representation?
Great question. I think the human form is sublime, although this may sound peculiar after you see how I employ anatomy in my work. If I don’t allow the forms to be abstracted or altered to a certain degree, I feel I’m not being as honest as I can be. I’ve completed realistic representations before but I seem to become impatient with the inevitable end result. I begin to feel rebellious and steer away from tradition. It also depends on how I feel an idea should be executed and whether it needs to be “other- worldly” or representational. That said, some pieces need to be unaltered and true to the subject and some need to be broken down and reconstructed.
6. Finally, PLUGS! Where can people find your work? Any shows/events coming up? Anywhere people can find your work and anything you'd like to share, fire away!
I really enjoyed and appreciated your questions. Thanks for the opportunity. My work can always be found online at www.ericsonntag.com, Instagram: @ericsonntag, Facebook: ericsonntagartist, and my Youtube channel: Eric Sonntag - Artist: Sculptor & Painter. I’m currently working on some new commissions in my studio in New Jersey. Shortly, I’ll post information about upcoming shows in 2020.