FEEL ____ WITH SONYA SOMBREUIL
FEEL ____ WITH SONYA SOMBREUIL
UGG has always been an emotional brand because of how it makes you FEEL. This season, we celebrate this connection by telling the stories of inspiring human beings.
We are proud to partner with the Hammer Museum and the Huntington’s Made in L.A. 2020 – an acclaimed exhibition presenting the works of 30 Los Angeles-based artists. The list of exhibitors includes Sonya Sombreuil of COME TEES. Wearing the new Classic Ultra Mini Boot, this is her story in her words.
Introduce yourself and the space.
My name is Sonya Sombreuil. This is the COME TEES studio where I paint and design. I spend most of my time here. I live here way more than my house.
How do you FEEL these days and why?
I feel different every day. I definitely notice that I’m starting to feel numb from how much is going on in the world. That makes me kind of sad, but I feel okay. A lot of gratitude for what I have like my practice, family, and friends, which have given me a lot of stability in this time. I feel a lot of responsibility. I feel a lot of pain about things that are beyond my control, and a desire to be really active in my allyship.
Both you and UGG share California roots. What’s special to you about California and its subcultures?
I think that California is a complex place. I grew up here and i love it, but it’s constantly reconfiguring, which is a lot of tension for someone who is very attached. My whole aesthetic is very located in my own origin story growing up in Santa Cruz, where the redwoods meet the sea. I feel connected to the natural part of California.
When and how did artmaking enter your life?
Art entered my life really early. I was self-identifying as an artist from when I was three or four. I’ve always been an artist in my own mind. That’s how I process reality. My dad always encouraged me, and if I drew on the paper at a restaurant, he would cut it out and save it. My dad was like, “She’s an artist. Let her do whatever she wants.”
You are a painter by trade but known to most as a clothing designer. Tell us about your painting practice, streetwear label, and how the two intersect.
Painting is the core of my practice. It’s intensely personal and historical for me, but when I graduated college, implementing it in the world was totally mysterious and obscure. I just wanted to make the kinds of things that my friends and I liked, and that were obtainable – which were tee shirts mostly, band merch, and relatable objects. I was always into making my own clothes or just customizing stuff, so COME TEES came quite naturally out of a need to be in the world with my practice.
That really didn’t seem possible with painting. It also didn’t seem to relate to my peers on a basic level, like who buys paintings. I would say my practice with designing clothes is not that dissimilar, but it’s given me more of an armature because there are places you can put graphics and places that correlate with parts of the body, as opposed to painting, where has this sort of arbitrary nature. It’s just hanging on a wall.
I think fine art is status that we give certain objects. I mean, like the word “fine.” I resent hierarchy. Instinctually, I am not comfortable with hierarchy and it feels like a construct. A tee shirt can have a high level of value to a person but might not have the same status as an object.
Where do you draw inspiration?
It’s constant work to keep fueling that fire. I’m always reading, and honestly a lot of that stuff from living. I’m in my studio so much that I don’t have as many of the spontaneous encounters that I used to, which really helped with that aspect of the work.
I find myself recycling or going inwards a lot more with my ideas. So much of what I used as inspiration was stuff I found in used bookstores or on the secondhand market. It’s hard to find anything anymore, so I feel like I’m relying on things from my past, and sometimes that’s sad.
What motivates you to get up every day and create?
I feel like I have to chase that out of necessity, because if you want longevity as a creative person, you have to renew that source constantly. It’s really not that cool when you see art become self-imitating or formulaic. It’s cool to expand the parameters of what you do. As silly as this sounds, I really try to push some aspect of what I do in everything I make. I’m unhappy if I don’t. No one else would notice the really small little ideas or breakthroughs or evolutions that I track.
How do you FEEL when you paint and design?
I think all artists connect with a deep part of themselves. I mean, that’s really you in a void space when you’re making something out of nothing. I actually find that space really painful. Sometimes I can get to a place where there’s so much excitement and I feel so close to myself, but definitely not all the time.
How does it FEEL to know your work resonates with others?
I feel like I have a really special thing with my brand because my relationship with my audience feels really intimate, like a peer relationship, even though my audience has grown a lot. My brother always says this Bob Marley quote, “Who feels it knows it,” but it’s kinda true. That’s how art functions on an unconscious level: everyone is feeling everything about it or they’re not.
How do you hope your work makes viewers FEEL?
I hope my work makes other people feel creative. Sometimes when I see someone really doing his or her thing, it makes me feel closer to my own voice. I hope it makes people feel autonomous and feel themselves.
Tell us about the work you’re exhibiting in the Hammer Museum and the Huntington’s Made in L.A. 2020.
I made paintings that function as walls, or you could just call them painted walls, for a kind of imagined space that functions as a gallery, venue, and gathering place too. All these spaces that I’ve been though in my origin as an artist, which have mostly been small venues, artist-run spaces. There are four phases of the space. One is a gallery, the next is a theater, the third space space is a music show, and the final is a fashion presentation. So those the worlds that I’ve been part of with my work.
Ultimately it ended up being a curatorial project. I have bunch of artists whose work I love, most of whom are dear friends. It was already a little bit of a memorial for those spaces which have become so scarce, but given everything that’s transpired with COVID, it’s even moreso – we won’t be able to gather in a closed space for a long time. It’s interesting; it has a new kind of relevancy or a new, unforeseen poignancy.
What’s the story behind the piece(s)?
There are eight walls, almost likes chunks of one wall. I’ve always loved cave painting, graffiti, and mural arts – everything but formal painting, which is made for an aristocracy. I wanted to invoke all those worlds a little bit. I think of them as one work rather than individual paintings.
I’ve tried to pull away a little bit from the definition of “painting” with them. They’re marked up and I’ve even invited some people to tag them. I really tired to make them not precious at all. For the gallery exhibition, one of the artists is hanging his artworks directly on mine. I really wanted them to function as walls and not be discrete paintings.
How does it FEEL to exhibit alongside other Los Angeles-based artists?
I feel like my whole show is those people. They are helping me produce the world that I feel I belong in. That’s the context for what I do. I feel really lucky that I was able to make this happen and that the Hammer Museum supported it. I don’t know if I should say this plug, but I’m so grateful that UGG supported it. I’m actually really shy in a certain sense; I don’t really want to be the center of attention, so it was cool to be able to incorporate my whole world into it. COVID put some wrenches in the works because a lot of my close friends who were going to be part of it are stuck across borders and stuff like that. But it’s so cool: I feel like the work itself is a constellation of artists who are going to be involved.