Keith Sonnier

“Sonnier uses neon lights and mirrors, among other materials, in constructing objects that function simultaneously as art object, environment, lighting, decoration, feng shui adjuster, force field, orgone accelerator, interdimensional portal, symbol transceiver, hypnotic state induction device, landing beacon, oracle and b.s. neutralizer.”

Glenn O’Brien
Excerpt from “The Illuminati”, exhibition catalogue for

“Keith Sonnier” at Castelli Gallery, 1992

Congratulations to Keith Sonnier on his receipt of the Distinguished Artist Award for Lifetime Achievement by the College Art Association. Sonnier will be officially recognized during the Convocation of the 103rd Annual Conference of the CAA, February 11 at the Hilton New York’s Midtown East Ballroom. The past two recipients of the Distinguished Artist Award for Lifetime Achievement were Yvonne Rainer and Ellsworth Kelly, other past recipients have included Wayne Thiebaud, John Baldessari, Peter Voulkos, Willem de Kooning, and Graphicstudio artists Louise Bourgeois and Miriam Schapiro. The Distinguished Artist Award for Lifetime Achievement was first awarded in 1988 to Joan Mitchell, and since then annually celebrates the career of nationally and internationally influential contemporary artists.

Sonnier’s career has spanned many forms and styles, but he is best known for his sculptural works including industrial elements, particularly neon lights. Sonnier worked with Graphicstudio on seven projects from 1991 to 2000. Sonnier’s projects ranged widely in media, from lithography to editioned sculptures including elements like neon and wind-blown fabric.

Keith Sonnier  (right) viewing the edition of Tympana with Eric Vontillius, Alan Eaker, and Julie Maher (right to left).
Keith Sonnier viewing a prototype of Tympana with Eric Vontillius, Alan Eaker, and Julie Maher (right to left).

Sonnier’s first project with Graphicstudio was Tympana, screenprinted balloon cloth (also called sail cloth) mounted in a sculpted round aluminum frame. Ultimately Tympana was abandoned as a Graphicstudio project, however the prototype was produced and even featured in Sonnier’s solo exhibition at Castelli Gallery in 1992.

Tympana installed during Keith Sonnier: Prints, Drawings & Multiples, 1990–1992 at Castelli Gallery from April 4 – 25, 1992.
Tympana installed during Keith Sonnier at Castelli Gallery, 1992.
Tympana while lit. Image from exhibition catalogue for Keith Sonnier: Prints, Drawings & Multiples, 1990–1992 at Castelli Gallery from April 4 – 25, 1992.
Tympana while lit. Image from exhibition catalogue for Keith Sonnier at Castelli Gallery, 1992.

“I try to make as many variables as I can of a particular form. That is why the idea of editions or print multiples is very important to me. It’s about not having a static image. If I don’t go through all the variations and mutations, it means that the piece keeps coming back into the iconography because the ideas have not been fully played out.”

Keith Sonnier
Notes from exhibition catalogue for
“Keith Sonnier” at Castelli Gallery, 1992

Sonnier’s next projects with Graphicstudio also featured screenprinted balloon cloth. Meridian Codex: Print One and Meridian Codex: Print Two featured looping and elliptical imagery that is seen throughout Sonnier’s work.

Keith Sonnier Meridian Codex: Print One, 1992 Screenprinted balloon cloth print in custom fabricated aluminum frame 75" x 36 1/2" x 3" (framed) Edition 50
Keith Sonnier
Meridian Codex: Print One, 1992
Screenprinted balloon cloth print in custom fabricated aluminum frame
75″ x 36 1/2″ x 3″ (framed)
Edition 50

Meridian Codex: Print One is a six-color silkscreen printed in eleven runs on pieces of yellow and turquoise balloon cloth which were sewn together with a French stitch seam. It was mounted in a custom fabricated aluminum frame which has been sandblasted and treated with a satin finish.

Keith Sonnier Meridian Codex: Print Two, 1992 Screenprinted balloon cloth print in custom fabricated aluminum frame 75" x 36 1/2" x 3" (framed) Edition 50
Keith Sonnier
Meridian Codex: Print Two, 1992
Screenprinted balloon cloth print in custom fabricated aluminum frame
75″ x 52 3/4″ x 3″ (framed)
Edition 50

Meridian Codex: Print Two is a twelve-color silkscreen printed in twelve runs on pieces of grey and lilac balloon cloth which were also sewn together with a French stitch seam. It was mounted in a custom fabricated aluminum frame which has been sandblasted and treated with a satin finish.

Sonnier at Graphicstudio with drawings for Meridian Codex: Print Two.
Sonnier at Graphicstudio with drawings for Meridian Codex: Print Two.
Meridian Codex: Print One and Meridian Codex: Print Two installed during Keith Sonnier: Prints, Drawings & Multiples, 1990–1992 at Castelli Gallery from April 4 – 25, 1992. Anemometer is also seen at left.
Meridian Codex: Print One and Meridian Codex: Print Two installed during Keith Sonnier at Castelli Gallery, 1992. Anemometer is also seen at left.

In 1992 Sonnier also produced Anemometer, a wall mounted sculpture incorporating two blowers inflating a screenprinted balloon cloth wind sock.

Keith Sonnier Anemometer, 1992 Screenprinted balloon cloth on aluminum frame with two electric blowers 36" x 120" x 30" Edition 15
Keith Sonnier
Anemometer, 1992
Screenprinted balloon cloth on aluminum frame with two electric blowers
36″ x 120″ x 30″
Edition 15
Sonnier peers inside of Anemometer.
Sonnier peers inside of Anemometer.
Anemometer while lit. Image from exhibition catalogue for Keith Sonnier: Prints, Drawings & Multiples, 1990–1992 at Castelli Gallery from April 4 – 25, 1992.
Anemometer while lit. Image from exhibition catalogue for Keith Sonnier at Castelli Gallery, 1992.

Anemometer was initiated in December 1991, at the same time as Meridian Codex: Print One and Meridian Codex: Print Two, and shares many elements. It is printed on balloon cloth and mounted on custom fabricated aluminum, but uses two electric blowers to inflate the balloon cloth and remain horizontal.


“These metamorphoses, of course, belong to the ethereal magic of a computer world, with its capacity to turn anything real and tangible into something ectoplasmic and ephemeral; but when these electronic forces are programmed by an artist to take us to the space-time coordinates of his own past creations, as they are in this extraordinary series, a poignant new kind of meditation on time, art, and personal history is born.”

Robert Rosenblum
Excerpt from “Keith Sonnier’s Electronic Meditations”, 1994

In 1994 Sonnier completed Computographics, an editioned book of five accordion-folded prints in a cloth-covered clamshell box. The prints represent a computer-manipulated retrospective look at five of Sonnier’s major works from 1968 and 1969. The images were printed using planographic and photoetching processes, Triple Loop and Lit Circle also have appliqués. The folio includes Keith Sonnier’s Electronic Meditations, an essay by Robert Rosenblum.

Keith Sonnier Computographics: Neon and Cloth, 1994 12-color planographic/photoetching 12 7/8" x 62 5/8" (unfolded) Edition 5
Keith Sonnier
Computographics: Neon and Cloth, 1994
12-color planographic/photoetching
12 7/8″ x 62 5/8″ (unfolded)
Edition 5
Keith Sonnier Computographics: Hotel Delacourt, 1994 6-color planographic/photoetching 12 7/8" x 62 5/8" (unfolded) Edition 5; XX
Keith Sonnier
Computographics: Hotel Delacourt, 1994
6-color planographic/photoetching
12 7/8″ x 62 5/8″ (unfolded)
Edition 5; XX
Keith Sonnier Computographics: In Between, 1994 10-color planographic/photoetching 12 7/8" x 62 5/8" (unfolded) Edition 5
Keith Sonnier
Computographics: In Between, 1994
10-color planographic/photoetching
12 7/8″ x 62 5/8″ (unfolded)
Edition 5
Keith Sonnier Computographics: Triple Loop, 1994 10-color planographic/photoetching with appliqués 12 7/8" x 62 5/8" (unfolded) Edition 5
Keith Sonnier
Computographics: Triple Loop, 1994
10-color planographic/photoetching with appliqués
12 7/8″ x 62 5/8″ (unfolded)
Edition 5
Keith Sonnier Computographics: Lit Circle, 1994 7-color planographic/photoetching with appliqués 12 7/8" x 62 5/8" (unfolded) Edition 5; XX
Keith Sonnier
Computographics: Lit Circle, 1994
7-color planographic/photoetching with appliqués
12 7/8″ x 62 5/8″ (unfolded)
Edition 5; XX
Computographics clamshell box
Computographics clamshell box

In 1996 Sonnier initiated another computer-assisted project with Graphicstudio, a lithograph entitled Changaloo. Sonnier created an image in maquette size, which was scanned and digitally manipulated. The digital file was used to create a film positive, which was processed, proofed and printed using conventional lithographic methods. The nine-color, nine-run lithograph was printed in an edition of 35.

Keith Sonnier Changaloo, 1996 Lithograph 65" x 38 3/4" Edition 35
Keith Sonnier
Changaloo, 1996
Lithograph
65″ x 38 3/4″
Edition 35

Sonnier’s most recent project with Graphicstudio was completed in 2000.  Chandelier is a multi-media aluminum lamp with a blue-neon argon tube element. The framework consists of an aluminum base and hydrojet-cut ring components, brass rods, acrylic and polycarbonate sheets, vinyl-coated fiberglass mesh and a power supply for the neon. As the title suggests, the piece is designed to be mounted to the ceiling or wall, or it can be free-standing.

Keith Sonnier Chandelier, 2000 Aluminum, acrylic, argon tube, fiberglass mesh, brass rods 33" tall x 24" diameter Edition 12
Keith Sonnier
Chandelier, 2000
Aluminum, acrylic, argon tube, fiberglass mesh, brass rods
33″ tall x 24″ diameter
Edition 12

Sonnier’s work with Graphicstudio is a realization of the mission to provide artists with the freedom to experiment and explore new directions and technologies to advance their practice. Congratulations Keith, on your recognition from the College Art Association!

“It is difficult to create shapes that are authentically enigmatic, but Sonnier has done so, making new visual sense of the enigmatic. [Sonnier’s constructions] … are ultimately more important for their unreadability than their potential readability, for their unfigurability than for the figure they cut.”

“Sonnier’s sculptures are as full of ambivalent feeling as they are of ambiguous meaning, making them all the more enigmatic. They show us the difficulty of maintaining the sense of the sacred in our day.”

Donald B. Kuspit
Excerpt from “The Sculptures of Keith Sonnier”, 1989

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