New Zealand artist Sonia Richter blurs the boundaries between fashion, painting and sculpture. Using a unique process involving acrylic, canvas, objet trouve and organic materials such as antlers, skulls and butterflies - she repurposes vintage clothing into fine art, creating dramatic three dimensional wall hung pieces.
Vintage shop finds and long-treasured pieces, from boyfriends’ shirts to vintage dresses, provide inspiration for works which might be theatrical or thought-provoking, humorous, sexy or nostalgic.
Her works explore the universal themes of identity, memory and beliefs. Recent collections playfully examine the boundaries between private and public - prompting audiences to consider how clothing can be used to construct and project an image.
“We all have pieces of clothing we treasure; items in our wardrobe that invoke particular memories, feelings or moments in time. I want to capture and tell their stories; give them a voice and celebrate them.”
Artistic influences include visual artists Jim Dine, Jasper Johns, Anselm Kiefer and Don Driver as well as fashion designer Alexander McQueen.
Recently, Richter’s practice has developed to embrace photography and film and she is currently working on a ‘sensory experiential’ collaboration in the Arctic inspired by the Aurora Borealis.
Richter has been painting for 15 years and has exhibited in NZ. She held her first solo exhibition in New York at the Ora Gallery in 2017 and is currently represented in the USA by Isabella Gurrucho Fine Art in Greenwich, CT.
From left to right:
Between Everything and Nothing, Madame Butterlfy, Flight of Passage, Tribute to David Bowie, A Moment at the Casino Royale, Suspended, The Unusual Suspects II and Faunification
In Between Everything and Nothing a vintage corset and petticoat have been layered and sculpted to create a dramatic, whimsical and romantic work which evokes a bygone era. The work’s title and windswept skirts call to mind Wuthering Heights and the idea of love and loss and Cathy and Heathcliff’s tragically self-consuming passion.
Madame Butterfly draws on the symbolism and inherent fragility of butterflies to reflect on the preciousness and ephemerality of both love and life. This uplifting work, a corset bursting with butterflies, evokes memories of romance and seduction. It recalls past passions and suggests the feeling of butterflies within as anticipation builds and love blossoms.
“Flight of Passage is a play on ‘right of passage’ and how we seem to have lost many of these rituals that help young boys pass into manhood. I wanted to create a work about this vulnerable time of life. I have repurposed a denim jacket to create this black leather jacket, a style which is often worn as a shield. The butterflies represent our constant evolution; that we shouldn’t ever be scared of changing and morphing; that there is no need to stay stuck in the same form. They are a made of sterling silver, gold leaf and bitumen. Over time the bitumen will crack and let more of the golden light shine out. My amazing artist/jeweler friend, Kate Alterio, made the butterfly pins.”
“Inspired by Bowie’s utter bravery in song and fashion, and his continual reinvention of himself, I created this Tribute to David Bowie work after his passing in 2016. I have always admired how he supported other artists, particularly when he commissioned a collection from the then up and coming Alexander McQueen for the Earthling Tour in the 90s. The Union Jack Coat that came out of that collection is my absolute favourite, so I chose this to honor Bowie, by recreated this coat and turning it into an artwork”.
“I was inspired to create A Moment at the Casino Royale when I found this original 1950s tuxedo shirt at a vintage store. Since the original Casino Royale book, by Ian Fleming, was published in 1953, it seemed fitting to create one of my ‘Boyfriend Shirt’ series, alluding to a fleeting moment with James Bond." Tucked inside the shirt are cherry blossoms to represent the fragility and fleeting nature of a passionate moment with Bond. The necklace and cufflink are copies of the jewellery worn in the movie of Casino Royale.
Suspended offers the viewer a flimsy negligee hastily discarded in a moment of passion, caught on the very mirror in front of which the wearer carried out her preparations for the anticipated night. The mirror has long been a fraught symbol in art history, sometimes suggestive of vanity, self-awareness and fleeting recognition. Here it is provocative and fun, providing a glimpse of a fleeting sensual event? Was it left behind absentmindedly or deliberately?”
The Unusual Suspects II is both funky and intriguing. “There is a sense mystery” says Richter. “Who wore this jacket? Why was it left behind? Was it someone’s father’s favorite go-to or a previous lover’s? Was it left behind absentmindedly or deliberately?”
Faunification hints at gendered roles and sexuality by representing both man and goat. It evokes the hunter-gatherer and ideas about masculine vitality and fertility.
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