Sonya Sklaroff Uses Art to Overcome the Dark Times of the COVID-19 Pandemic


( ENSPIRE She Did That ) Noted for Her Paintings Across New York City and has Published Books With Compilations of Her Works

ENSPIRE Contributor: Ava Girardi

Before becoming an artist known for her colorful and contemporary oil paintings and cityscapes in New York City, Sonya Sklaroff accomplished much during her educational career and received numerous awards for her paintings. Before knowing her work, Sklaroff attended the Rhode Island School of Design and was a part of the RISD’s European Honors Program. She then received an MFA in painting from Parsons School of Design. With this, she has also completed artist-in-residence programs, including the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Ragdale Foundation, Vermont Studio Center, and Santa Fe Art Institute. She also joined the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s World Views Project, where she was given a 9-month studio on the 91st floor of the World Trade Center. 

Sklaroff also decided to share her art experiences and teach others. Since 1999, she has been a professor at Parsons. Along with being a professor, she has also been given numerous honors for her work. The New York Times and the Washington Post have also reviewed her paintings. Her pieces are presented in museums and exhibitions worldwide, such as the Phillips Museum of Art, the Cahoon Museum of Art, the Consul General of France, the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Brown-Forman Corporation, and many more. 

Now, Sklaroff will release the limited edition of her artist book, A Love Letter to New York City. This is her third book, and it will be a compilation of over 100 of her paintings and drawings with famous quotes about New York City by Dorothy Parker and EB White. Together with the publication of the book, she will also have a significant exhibition of her paintings and drawings in the Algonquin Hotel. Sklaroff will present her most well-known series at this exhibition, “The Four Seasons of New York City.” In the exhibition, Sklaroff will use four 48×36 oil canvases to show Summer, Autumn, Spring, and Winter to show the dark and joyful times experienced during the dark times of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lastly, Sklaroff has received the Anonymous as a Woman grant from the New York Foundation for the Arts. She has also published a limited edition artist monograph, “Pandemic Paintings: Sonya Sklaroff ” that includes an introduction by chef Rachel Ray. 

Enspire Magazine spoke with Sklaroff to discuss her passion for painting, her books, and recent exhibitions: 

When did you start painting, and why did you become so passionate about it? 

“I was always making stuff as a kid: toys out of found objects, little clay people, and I’d draw constantly. I remember what it felt like when I got my first set of oils as an 11-year-old. It was like I finally found my medium. I could experiment, layer, play with color, and create rich texture with vibrant color. I haven’t stopped painting since.” 

Why did you choose to pursue contemporary art compared to other types of art? What drew you into this type of style of painting? 

“I was trained as a traditional oil painter studying anatomy, color theory, portraiture, Plein air painting, perspective, structure, and form. For many years my work was representational as I attempted to capture the views that I saw before me. In the past few years, my work has taken on a more experimental and whimsical quality. I love to manipulate perspective. I’m adding an aspect of fantasy and imaginative elements, and my colors are more vivid and playful. I’m grateful for my traditional background, but I now feel free to use my skills to express myself in a more personal and evocative manner.”

Courtesy of Sonya Sklaroff

When starting a new painting, what is your inspiration, and what is your starting process?

“Sometimes people ask how I find inspiration. I don’t. Inspiration finds me.  I can wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and find that it is inspiration looking back at me, as somehow the face reflected just doesn’t feel familiar and I paint it to capture that unnerving feeling. Months into the pandemic I came across my neighbor who hadn’t shaved since the lockdown began – the portrait begged to be painted. Trapped in my apartment with the city shut down, I daydreamed of going dancing. So ballroom dancing on a twilit rooftop emerged on my canvas. Sometimes it’s a simple scene that presents itself to me and I know that it will be the subject for my next painting. Other times I have an idea in my head and it works itself out on the canvas.”  

What is one of your favorite pieces and why? 

“My last painting I completed for my spring 2022 solo show “Summer of Love and Laundry” is one of my favorites. It depicts a view looking towards downtown NYC from the Q train going over the Manhattan Bridge. I used elements taken from my life and my memory to represent daily activities that occur on city rooftops: two friends eating on a balcony, hanging laundry blowing in the breeze on a clothesline, sunbathers catching some rays, my friend Bobby Wooten III playing his guitar, my daughter jumping rope, our neighbor’s cat peering out the window. This painting holds special meaning to me because I am combining aspects of my personal viewpoint with scenes of the city that I love.” 

Courtesy of Sonya Sklaroff

How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect your passion for painting?  

“During this intense time of isolation, darkness, and fear, it felt unnatural to continue to work on the art that I had been concentrating on in my studio previously. I decided early on during the pandemic that I could either sit at home with my family and eat cookies and cry, or I could create masterpieces and connect with the outside world. I embraced the new ideas, anxieties, and dreams that were emerging from my mind, and decided to paint them. It felt liberating because my work began to take on a much more personal direction. It was gratifying to learn that others were connecting with my art because they were experiencing the same emotions that I was feeling which I expressed through my work. The response to my new paintings that I received was overwhelming and this helped fuel my desire to continue to create.”

Could you discuss more about your published books and what they can offer to readers? 

“I have three published artist monographs: 

My first, “Sonya Sklaroff” is a compilation of my classic cityscape paintings and has a poignant forward written by the best-selling mystery writer Harlan Coben.  

The second book, “Pandemic Paintings”, has selections from the work that I created during the Pandemic. The forward is written by Rachael Ray, with whom I became close friends during this time. In December of 2020, Ray was given one of my paintings as a gift by Harlan Coben. Ray contacted me to tell me how much the painting meant to her and we began a pen-pal relationship via text until the city opened enough to meet in person. Rachael Ray’s forward is a written testament of the joy that art can bring during difficult times. 

The third book, “A Love Letter to NYC”, is a collection of over 100 of my paintings, drawings, and works on paper of the city interspersed with captivating quotes about New York by famous literary and artistic figures such as Dorothy Parker and EB White.”  

Courtesy of Sonya Sklaroff

What inspired you to create your series “The Four Seasons of New York City?”

“My paintings are like personal visual poems. They show fragments of New York City that visitors tend to overlook: small blooming neighborhood secret gardens, stately water towers perched on rooftops, people enjoying a meal on their terrace at sunset, lovers smooching in a private corner in the springtime… My Four Seasons Series that I completed during the latter part of the pandemic display this personal viewpoint of New York. Through this series, I wanted to show that New York was like a living organism; it continued to grow and evolve through the pandemic; and its inhabitants never stopped living their lives, believing in better days to come. This series comprises four large-scale oil on canvas works representing Summer, Autumn, Winter, and Spring. They were created in the past year, during the darkest days of the pandemic exemplifying the universal feelings of hope, promise, joy, and renewal.”  

Sklaroff has taken her passion for art and has turned it into a way to show the beauty and meaning art can deliver. She has taken what she has been devoted to for years and has passed on her skills to younger individuals. Her goal is to motivate individuals wanting to do the same through her job as a professor, published books, and exhibitions. Not only is her art colorful and striking to look at, but it also offers a message that viewers can take away, such as how as a community, we made it through the darkest times of the pandemic when we thought there was no hope. Sklaroff has not allowed the pandemic or other challenges to stop her successful art career, and she is showing others to follow the same path. 

To learn more about Sonya Sklaroff and her work visit her site here. Also, check out her Instagram @sonyasklaroff to see some samples of her work.

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