Today, I chat with one of the organizers behind the show, Rheanna Sonnichsen, about her career and artwork, talk about this week's exhibition at the Guthrie, and get her thoughts on the local art scene. (Some artwork by Nikki Engel, photos courtesy of Sonnichsen.)
Gavin: Hey, Rheanna. First thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Rheanna: I’m known to be pretty sarcastic in most things I say, I like my bike more than most people like their children, I’m an Aquarius and a workaholic. I love to cook and drink whiskey -- mostly simultaneously -- I read on the reg., my favorite food is Pho, I collect vintage glassware, have a very expensive thrift -tore habit, I REALLY like picnics, I always smell awesome and I’m saving for a 1970 Chevelle SS that I will flaunt ostentatiously once obtained. I scribble/draw/doodle stuff as a hobby and I never take myself seriously. I have lived on and off in SLC for almost 11 years now. I was in a punk band while living in the San Francisco area in the early 2000s, and came to SLC to check out the music and art scene. I noticed a sense of camaraderie with people in the music and art scene and I decided to move here to be involved in that. I’ve moved in, around and out of the country several times -- almost every two years -- and always end up coming back here because it’s comfortable and I can pretty much pick up where I left off. But let’s keep it real: I probably wouldn’t come back to SLC if it wasn’t for some of the friendships I’ve built over the years. There are people in SLC that you will never find anywhere else.
Gavin: When did you first take an interest in art, and what were some early influences on you?
Rheanna: I’ve always liked comic books and skateboard art since I can remember. I grew up in Southern California until my late teens, and in the '90s my brother was heavily into skating so I was usually carting him around to the skate parks, helping him film, meeting the skate crews and being influenced by that raw form of D.I.Y. skate artistry. I also had a lot of friends doing graffiti-mostly Latino-inspired spray painting that I thought was so beautiful. In my late teens/20s, I found out about Peter Bagge’s HATE, The Bradley’s and Apocalypse Nerd comics, Cocaine Comix, CUD, Zap, Love and Rockets, Eric Stanton’s sketches, and pretty much any literature that had a cynical tongue-in-cheek fucked-up side to it, and I was hooked! The comic books I read tend to show the flaws of the characters and relatable dialogue. Besides comics and literature in general, I’d have to say that any little creature from the animal kingdom highly inspires me also. Animals don’t bullshit you and I find that respectable.
Gavin: Did you take any college courses for art, or were you mainly self-taught?
Rheanna: I’ve never been to art school and I never intend to go. I was self-taught. I see something I like and I draw it out in my own interpretation and I draw a lot out of memory. I pretty much only use Sharpies. I hate drawing in pencil and I suck at painting. There’s something absolute about drawing in permanent marker that challenges me to work the piece to completion even if I make a mistake. I’ve probably contributed to too many trees meeting their death just because I hate using pencils. But I’m selfish like that.
Gavin: What was it like for you breaking out onto the local art scene and doing exhibitions?
Rheanna: “Cállate la Boca” was my first naked romp through the art scene in SLC. I’ve contributed to comic books, skateboard designs, flyers, graffiti, business boards and posters over many years, both nationally and internationally, but I’ve never really focused too much on doing a local show or exhibiting anything locally because it hasn’t been important to me to be “seen.” Drawing is something I enjoy but I don’t feel I need to bring my hobby up at every goddamn dinner party. After the last show at Guthrie Meg Charlier and I did, it was positive enough to move forward and possibly do more shows.
Gavin: When did you first meet Meg Charlier and how did the two of you become friends?
Rheanna: Due to having the same circle of friends, Meg and I would see each other out and I was definitely more aggressive about building a friendship with her because, well, she’s rad. I ended up working at the same group home for autistic people that she worked at and we pretty much partied our way into a tight friendship with one another -- not while working at the group home, of course. She was in Vile Blue Shades and going to college to get her art degree at the time and I had a profound respect for what she was doing as a member in V.B.S. and for what she was doing in the art scene. The woman is incredibly talented in many avenues and intensely intelligent. She is also one of the kindest and funniest people I know. So, when she hit me up to collaborate in the Guthrie show in October, I was flattered to tears. I couldn’t ask to have a better human being in my life.
Gavin: With both of you as artists, what's your professional relationship like when showing and talking about each other's works?
Rheanna: I can’t speak on Meg’s behalf, but I feel like we support each other to the nails personally and professionally and protect each other’s creations viciously. We both traded art with one another for “Cállate la Boca,” we stayed up to the early morning screen printing our posters for the show, we hung everything in Guthrie the same day together and we just have that relationship personally/ professionally where we know when the other needs their space. We came up with the “Cállate la Boca” as a West Side-, specifically Latino-, inspired theme because we both live in Rose Park and were brainstorming on what we could do that we both relate to. I feel we have a pretty similar style to what we do in that there’s not a large concern for who may/may not get offended.
Gavin: How did the idea come about for the two of you to start putting on dual shows?
Rheanna: There wasn’t a plan to do two shows; it just panned out that way. I happened to swing by the Guthrie and ran into Christian Michael, who curated “Cállate la Boca” for the last Gallery Stroll, and I mentioned that I think it would be rad to do a show based on women in a comic-book interpretation. Christian and I exchanged numbers and he contacted me to do the upcoming Gallery Stroll. I then threatened Meg that if she didn’t contribute to “Lust & Lies” then she should learn how to breathe underwater. So, needless to say, she agreed. Given that Meg and I work -- at minimum -- two jobs apiece and have our own side projects going on, dual shows probably won’t become a habit. But we’re having fun with what’s happening now.
Gavin: What was your first show with Meg like, and what was the reception like from the public?
Rheanna: This last show at Guthrie with Meg was my first in SLC. Meg asked me to participate because she and I have a long history of not losing our shit when working together, she and I have a very similar aesthetic and she was always a big supporter in getting me to put my stuff out there. It was a good experience for me because I got to make people laugh, get feedback from people I admire, do some art trade, meet some new buddies and, of course, have a great excuse to drink a copious amount of whiskey.
Gavin: What made you choose The Guthrie as the main location for these shows?
Rheanna: Meg knew Christian and those two had a previous arrangement to do a show there. I was invited by Meg to participate in the last Gallery Stroll, since I didn’t really know Christian at the time.
Gavin: Coming up this Friday, you'll be putting on another exhibition, Lust & Lies. Tell us about the theme of the show.
Rheanna: I asked several homies to participate in the upcoming show Lust & Lies, which is based on the artists' own interpretation of a female figure but in a comic-book vein. I just really liked the comic-book theme based around women because the window for imagination is left wide open. Everyone will have something different to bring to the table, and I think the artists will have a good time and that’s what creating is all about.
Gavin: Who are some of the artists you have on board for the show, and how is it working with them?
Rheanna: Meg, Sri Whipple, Trent Call, Skyler Chubak, Spencer Barton, Gailon Justus, Nikki Engel and myself are all contributing to Lust & Lies. Most all of us know each other and each artist has been really enthusiastic about the show. It’s a rowdy and really talented bunch. It should be a good time.
Gavin: Moving on to local art, what are your thoughts on our art scene, both good and bad?
Rheanna: I have been known to bitch and moan about the local art and music scene being a bit of an incestuous dog-and-pony show. I mean, you can only look at so many fucking landscapes, watercolors of people’s pets and double-exposure photo exhibitions from the same artists every Gallery Stroll before you start feeling like the creative pulse is waning. I figure doing a show at Guthrie with a variety of known and unknown artists -- some of which, like me, have never participated in Gallery Stroll -- should be little bit of revitalization for the art scene.
Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make things more prominent?
Rheanna: I think there are a lot of talented people roaming around SLC looking for a venue to exhibit their work, and maybe we as a community need to be more objective and welcoming to new blood. I don’t think I would’ve been able to contribute to the last Gallery Stroll and the upcoming Gallery Stroll unless people like Christian and Meg welcomed me with open arms as someone just cutting her teeth in the local art world.
Gavin: Since you touched on it a bit, what's your opinion on Gallery Stroll these days?
Rheanna: For the most part, I enjoy what SLC has to offer in both the music and art world. Like anything else, there’s always room for growth. I would like to see another Red Light Books open up. I feel like without that store around, downtown is missing its estranged dirty uncle.
Gavin: What can we expect to see from you over the rest of the year and going into next?
Rheanna: Definitely more comic-book-oriented stuff. I’ve wanted to collaborate with a few local buddies just for shits and giggles. After the last Gallery Stroll, there have been talks of me contributing on an album cover and flyer(s) for local bands, which could be fun. I’m working on doing wood panels involving Sharpies currently, which seems to be kicking my ass, so we will see where my brain takes me.
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Rheanna: Thanks to Christian, Meg, Sri, Trent, Gailon, Skyler, Nikki, and Spencer for being part of the Lust & Lies show. All of you are rad and I hope everyone has a great time! Big ups to the Guthrie for letting us decorate your halls and walls, high five to Steve Hepner for the photo. Support Artists for Local Agriculture (AFLA), please give generously to those who are in need this holiday season -- there’s a lot of peeps that are hurting out there so do what you can -- thanks to FICE and Cory for the kicks, thanks to Mestizo’s coffee in R.P. for making the best cayenne white mocha I’ve ever had, thanks to Sam I Am for DJing at the "Cállate la Boca” show, and thanks to the Garage on Beck for giving me a Friday night off.
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