Sonja Elise- Art Is What I'm Meant To Do

It’s the news that nobody wants to hear, that someone you love has cancer. These are the words that Sonja Elise heard her mother speak. These are the words that would send Sonja down her art path. Sonja’s mum had bought her easel and upon realising that it was now or never, she began to paint. “I was really crap at first. But I realised that I could paint over something and start again if I didn’t like it, so I found myself doing that a lot,” says Sonja.

Soon, painting became an avenue that would help Sonja cope with the grief she was experiencing. “Art therapy wasn’t a thing back then. I was pushing all my pain, anger and emotions on to the artwork. Getting a good counsellor back then was hard enough, so I guess I created my own type of therapy through art.”

Twelve years later, Sonja’s therapist suggested that she enrol in art school. This experience would help Sonja to learn the technical skills she was lacking and really hone in on her talents. “Art school really became my saviour,” she says. On her first day of art school, with all sorts of emotions running through her body, Sonja met Jenni Nichols who would become a mentor for her in the years to come. “I was crying my eyes out questioning what I was doing there. It was so scary, such a change in life. But meeting Jenni really helped me to walk through that door and create a new beginning,” she says.

Sonja Emerges as an artist

During our interview, Sonja takes me through some of her artwork ranging from 10 years ago up until now. The technical growth has been substantial but the personal meaning behind the art has always been there. She shows me a particular painting from 2009 that resemble the Play School windows. The round window represents the turmoil that Sonja associated with the window, having always chosen the round window growing up. The other two windows are more peaceful; a beach and a meadow. “At that stage, that’s what I was feeling about my life. Even though it’s not a great painting, I’ve kept it because of how it represented the way I was feeling at the time”.

Nowadays, Sonja uses that same emotion to turn negative things into positives. “I’ll throw it all onto the canvas, sit with for a little while trying to understand what it means and then I’ll change it. I’ll put a positive spin on it and that’s why it’s become the most important part of art therapy for me”.

Sonja had her debut exhibition earlier this year at the Hunter Artisan Gallery. Titled ‘An Emergence of Hope’, the exhibition was about Sonja’s personal experiences and emerging as an artist. “I was really wanting to tell people through these works that there is hope. You can come from such darkness, but you can still make it in this world,” says Sonja. “I got to a point when I realised that I am worth being loved and worked through all the past evil in my life to get to a stage where I can be happy.

Ben Tankard

Sonja’s house is filled with varying types of artwork from both herself and other artists. I happen to notice an oversized artwork of a Monopoly board featuring suburbs and attractions of Newcastle. Sonja goes on to explain that the artist behind this artwork, Ben Tankard, is an artist she finds particularly inspiring.

“He did the opening for my exhibition. I found him on Facebook many years ago when I’d only been painting for a few years. His paintings were very surreal and I loved his work so I sent him an email saying that I had a budget of $45 but that I really wanted one of his pieces,” Sonja says. She shows me a small painting and continues on, saying that Ben sent her that artwork for free. “That small piece of art is what kept me painting”. The giant monopoly board that Ben created, was purchased by Sonja’s partner as a congratulations on her first exhibition.

Other Inspiration

Van Gogh is another of Sonja’s inspirations. She was always drawn to his story and his life, as sad it was, and the beauty he created from that. Sonja has also created some artworks inspired by the works of Van Gogh, something she says helps stimulate her.

Aside from art, music is something that greatly inspires Sonja. She particularly loves Dave Grohl and how his lyrics resonate with her on a personal level. “I always wanted to be a blues singer, but it kind of fell by the wayside, however I grew up surrounded by music,” she says.

In terms of metaphysical, Sonja draws a lot of inspiration from angels. As someone who is ruled by both her emotions and spirituality, Sonja explains that angels help guide her through an artwork. “It’s a hard thing to explain but basically when I am very upset and I try to put that onto the canvas, there’s a change that happens and it calms me down; I feel like I am surrounded by support”, Sonja explains. She has always felt like she is surrounded in her most desperate moments, pulling her through when she most needs it.

Future Work

Sonja begins to tell me about a series of lino prints she is currently working on which looks at Victorian Architecture teamed with angels. She tells me about one particular piece which is of luggage on a railway track. “It means that the people who once owned the luggage have moved on, but the angel is there to clean it up whether in a physical or metaphysical sense. The journey doesn’t end here; we move on, and we don’t have to worry about the journey, we don't need to be afraid of death."

This print titled 'The Journey' took Sonja a total of 60 hours to complete, so a lot of time, effort and consideration went into it. In comparison, a small watercolour might only take Sonja 3 hours to complete so this lino series is taking a lot of dedication and time.

Sonja has learned that her emotions is what makes her the amazing artist that she is today, because you can’t separate art and emotion; they’re intertwined. “My entire life experience determines what I do in my art. It might not look emotional on the surface but there is always a deeper, considered meaning behind it.”

Moving forward as an artist, Sonja will work to create as many different pieces as she can with varying mediums and separate them into different exhibitions. “I might have a bold acrylic exhibition teamed with my woodblock prints which are big and colourful. Then I might put the watercolours with the lino prints cause they have a much softer feel about them”.

 One thing that is certain in Sonja’S future is that she will continue creating art. “Art is my passion. It’s what I’m meant to do”.

To follow Sonja's art on Facebook, follow her here.