“My painting has evolved in a way that fuses my love of fashion, art, sculpture and assemblage, giving new life to vintage and cherished pieces of clothing and collectibles by creating brave and colourful artworks.”
- Sonia Richter
Hanging works in my studio for an Open Studio Night
Sonia Richter blurs the boundaries between painting and sculpture to tell stories that are both personal and universal. Op shop finds and long-treasured pieces provide inspiration for works which might be witty, theatrical, humorous or nostalgic.
“I have always had a huge interest in clothing design and wearable art. This comes through strongly in my painting.”
Some of her earliest works incorporating clothing were born out of a desire to “hold onto favourites that were worn with love and full of stories. I wanted to capture these stories, or to create new ones, in the form of a painting.”
Richter held her first solo show in 2002. A desire to learn more and gain professional tuition led her to Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology in 2003. Returning to Wanaka she participated in group shows at gallery 33 and held three further solo shows between 2004 and 2007, locally and in Wellington.
Her earliest works were moody skyscapes inspired by JMW Turner. Over the past decade her canvases have become increasingly figurative with found objects dominating the composition. Primarily working on a large-scale, in acrylic on canvas or board, her media includes vintage clothing, dried flowers and other organic matter.
International art historical precedents include American pop artist Jim Dine (b. 1935), and Neo-Dadaists Jasper Johns (b. 1930) and Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) who employed familiar motifs and sometimes used non-fine art materials.
Closer to home, Richter pays homage to New Zealand artist Don Driver (1930-2011), who worked across painting, sculpture and assemblage. Employing both domestic and industrial materials, Driver’s works incite memories through familiarity while simultaneously provoking new, sometimes contentious dialogues.
Above all, Richter cites Anselm Kiefer as most influential on her painting: “… his use of clothing and organic matter have had a huge impact on how I paint.”
In my studio in Wanaka, New Zealand
A butterfly costumes i made after a trip to Iceland
The Tribute Series
This series pay homage to her favourite designer, Alexander McQueen, particularly his Widows of Culloden show (2006) – her favourites included dresses with antlers. I wanted to immortalise his work in a sculptural context.”
In one work she has incorporated taxidermy bats to symbolise McQueen’s darker side: “his nocturnal life and the cycle of creativity and post-show comedown.” In a lighter version Richter wanted to evoke stillness: “to represent a calm McQueen in death as opposed to the tortured restless McQueen in life.” She did this by elongating the dress to lend the work a peaceful, ethereal quality, almost like it was floating above the viewer.
The passing of Prince and David Bowie – who have always inspired her creativity – led to further tribute works. Richter recreated Bowie’s Union Jack coat of 1989 and Prince’s jewel-like purple coat, spending agonisingly happy hours on each to capture the exact effect.
The Boyfriend Shirt Series
“I love the cheeky look of a man’s shirt on a woman and that morning-after feeling it evokes: from the first flush of love to the warmth of true and lasting love....”
In these works Richter moulds shirts to capture the curves of a woman. They’ve been undeniably fun to work on and she welcomes commissions, encouraging clients to bring their own garments steeped in memories, to her to immortalise.
Richter’s art allows her to work through personal experiences and to tell stories others may recognise. The sculpting process demands several skills and can be laborious (from sewing to building) and the beauty of her finished works belies the sometimes rustic tools behind the trade.
She is continuing a now century-old practice of using found objects. But unlike her famous forefathers, for example Duchamp with Fountain (1917), Richter is not mocking the art establishment; rather, she’s privileging our memories, celebrating the life of her objects and extending their existence for posterity.
“We all have pieces of clothing that we treasure for whatever reason, a child’s dress long since outgrown; jeans that we loved … now in rags; a coat from a grandmother…. I wanted to capture some of these things and to tell stories. Using vintage pieces and found objects allows me to morph my huge love of clothing and costume design, with painting and sculpture.“