Keep it Juicy

arts-lead soniaAbstract artist Sonia Calderon just wants to paint

Juicy tubes of paint covering the surface of her work tables and benches. Juicy fields of thick paint covering the large canvases in her studio. There’s no denying that the large-scale abstract paintings made by restless artist Sonia Calderon are, well, juicy. So much so that she even uses “Juicy Abstracts” as her professional brand. Huge, splashy, confident shapes thick with color fields and impasto—these are Calderon’s hallmarks. The artist apologized for her messy studio, but I found it the perfect visual metaphor for her approach to the work. A series of photographic blow-ups are taped to the back of the door. “I take these and then manipulate them to use as inspiration for a painting,” she says. Bottled water, two paintings-in-progress, huge coffee cans filled with brushes—it is clearly a well-used workspace.

Calderon is in the enviable position of being able to call painting her “day job.” The Bay Area native has been painting since childhood, picking up experience and expertise in various art programs, including the Art Academy in San Francisco, San Jose State University, and Cabrillo College. Moving around during her teenage years has influenced her vibrant repertoire of abstract oil paintings, and so did a year based in Germany studying communication design and traveling through Europe. “I came back here because I missed the ocean,” she says with a smile, her face framed by wayward Botticelli curls. “And the nice weather.” Calderon’s first Open Studios in 2013 opened her eyes to her professional possibilities. “I sold out that show,” she says.

Abstract but direct: That mantra from singer Eddie Vedder stuck with Calderon. “I’m influenced by music and I think my work is like that, abstract but direct. Maybe very slightly representational—not entirely abstract,” she admits, as we consider a bold work-in-progress riffing on San Francisco’s urban corridors. Narrative pops up in Calderon’s current show at Stockwell Cellars, where the insistent diamond-shaped verticals of orange against chartreuse suggest urban sky-scapes and interlocking earth tones echo with landscape influences. “I will take a subject that interests me,” she points to a trio of nudes in one of her photos, “and then abstract it.”

Calderon, who likes to work in series, usually purchases pre-stretched primed canvas. “Stretching canvas is time-consuming and I just want to paint,” she says. She also wants to keep selling her work. “I don’t want to get another job,” she complains impishly.

Calderon believes that her abstract work stands out in a crowd of representational and landscape painting dominating Central Coast painting. Right now, Calderon favors the color orange, which shows up in small but crucial accents in her large color field oils. Massive blocks of ochre and creamy yellow are corralled by gestural marks of Prussian blue and deep green. Her signature shapes, always in dynamic tension with each other, appear to lift up from the foreground, as if dissolving into fog—a haunted deKooning meets Francis Bacon quality influenced by Bay Area weather. She often works on several pieces at the same time, one refreshing the other in terms of her progress. “I paint from my dreams, or simply from the colors themselves. The dark shapes seem to require something light,” she says.

Does she paint all the time? “Sometimes I take a month off. If I get a big check I’ll go shop, and eat great food.” She finds painting large-scale always an emotional challenge. “Sometimes the painting makes me anxious,” Calderon says. “There are so many ideas going on and I have to find closure. I know when it’s complete,” she nods. “And then I’m ready to move on to the next painting.”

“I really enjoy my life,” Calderon says. “I was born to be an artist.” And there’s juicy evidence to support her claim.

Calderon’s colorful abstract oil paintings are on view First Friday, April 3 at Stockwell Cellars Tasting Room. For more information visit soniacalderon.biz. PHOTO: Abstract painter Sonia Calderon’s next series is inspired by guilty pleasures and ‘psycho bitches eating cheese pizza in pastel.’ CHIP SCHEUER

Christina Waters was born in Santa Cruz and raised all over the world (thanks to an Air Force dad), with real-world training in painting, music, winetasting, trail running, organic gardening, and teaching. She has a PhD in Philosophy, teaches in the Arts at UCSC and sings with the UCSC Concert Choir. Look for her recent memoir “Inside the Flame” at bookstores everywhere.

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