Sonya Fe, painter and muralist


Visit the SMUD Art Gallery at 6301 S Street, and learn more about Sonya Fe at

While some youngsters may not give too much meaning to the finger paints or crayons that they play with, Sonya Fe has known she’s wanted to be an artist since she was little. Fast-forward to today, and Fe’s new exhibit, Passion of Color, is now open at the SMUD Art Gallery, and will be running through January 4. SN&R caught up with her to talk about the city’s relationship with artists of color, creativity in publicly funded art and sheep.

How’s it feel being in the SMUD gallery?

Oh, I feel good. I mean, I’ve been showing a long time, so it’s just like another little feather in my cap.

What’s most important to you in your own art?

What’s important to me is to create works of art that are new for me. If they’re new for me, they’re going to be new for other people. And I like to create work that makes the people think and feel in another way of looking at something beside the old, cliché way of looking at things, if that makes any sense. … For instance, there’s a[n] artist named Horace Pippin, and he’s long-gone dead, he was a slave artist. Self-taught. He would paint the human face with no specific training, no technical training, but he would paint and it was his own vision. And then you compare it to a[n] artist who is well-trained, and the differences are so different. … When you create, forget all that you learned and let it just come from you.

What is the local art scene missing right now?

It seems like that’s what we show a lot of is New York school, that modern stuff, which is fine, but it’s not all that there is. And we show a lot of the old European standards of work, which is fine, but that’s not all there is. Let’s show some black [artists] and some Latinos and Asians, or somebody else. … A lot of it is like stuck in the New York school in the ’60s and ’70s. That’s how I see it. We got to get more to 2017.

It’s a shame just to see a whole city stuck in one style.

You know why they’re stuck in that one style? Because the powers that be own Sacramento and that’s what they like. Uh-oh, I’m going to get in trouble now. (Laughs.)

What can the city do to support the arts in underrepresented communities?

They have preconceived notions as to what art should be, and they live and they try to exhibit those views and those visions. But art is constantly being recreated and reinvented, you know? And it seems like we don’t give people that do work like that a chance, because a lot of it’s just raw work and if something’s new to you and you’re not comfortable with it, many times you’ll reject it. … For example: work by minority artists. … They have different views, different experiences, different visions. So, they create artwork, [and] a lot of times, or many times, it’s looked upon as, ‘Well, we don’t understand this, and it’s not the mainstream,’ so it doesn’t get the backing as the mainstream stuff that everybody is familiar with. Does that make sense?

Yeah. It’s sad to hear, but it makes sense.

And then when someone who is in that small group breaks though and everyone starts understanding their work, they go, “Oh, yeah, yeah, genius, it’s this, it’s that,” but you know, they needed the applause or the push in the beginning. It’s just like when I was teaching on the Hoopa Indian reservation years ago. … There was this one little boy, he was doing a portrait and his was completely different from everybody else in the classroom. And I sat down with him … because they were laughing at his work, and I [said,] “Let me tell you something, you have guts doing yours like that, because basically everybody’s a bunch of sheep, they’re just going to copy and do what feels good and what’s familiar. You’re doing something that’s not familiar and that takes guts to put it out there.’”And so later on I’m walking around the class and I hear him tell some little kid, another student, “Oh, you’re a sheep.” (Laughs.)

That’s hilarious.

Yeah, so that was good, I’m glad he learned.

Any favorite things about working in Sacramento?

To be honest with you, it doesn’t matter. … Sacramento or Los Angeles, when I’m in my studio I do not know where I’m at but in my studio. And I like that world. In that world, I feel a cool breeze running all through my body and my face. And I know that sounds crazy, but you can ask a lot of other artists, I’m sure they feel the same thing, but when I’m painting the skin on my face gets extremely cool, and I don’t know if that’s a form of meditation or what, but I really enjoy that high.