Sonja Weber Gilkey
SONJA WEBER GILKEY
Growing up in post war Amsterdam, The Netherlands I loved going with my family to the seashore and sailing on the weekends along The Westeinder Plas in Kudelstaart, The Netherlands, wreath of daisies in my hair - playing with sand and sticks and various grasses. My memories are of the wonderful smell of the lake, the sea, the colors of the shells washed up on the shore, and rope which were often in my hands.
After a youth spent focused on the arts and music, I moved to the west village in New York in the early 1960’s and fell in with the BEAT GENERATION movement going to poetry meetings and sharing art and stories with artists and friends. A few years later, when my husband and I moved to Chicago, I became immersed in the Chicago blues and art that reflected urban American life. Despite a heavily segregated city that resulted in frequent cautions from the police, I journeyed with my husband to the now historic Checkerboard Lounge to enjoy the blues. This lead to my passion for the blues and I soon began to study from blues icon Erwin Helfer.
My experimental artistic interest with modern materials and symbols reached deep into the heart and soul of Maxwell Street on the South side of Chicago. From the 1960’s through the 1980’s I often incorporated materials reflecting the social and racial tensions of the modern American city.
In the 1970’s I was involved with advocating for women’s rights in the art world and focused, with the assistance of key leaders at The University of Chicago, for greater inclusion of women into The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Throughout this period, my artistic collaboration, co-curating, and work with COBRA artist Cosmo Compoli also brought me together with the post-modern punk movement, the music of performance artists like DEVO, and travels out west to experience and work with outsider art.
In the 1980s my art also reflected a renewed political focus on the Cold War tensions and the proxy conflicts in developing nations. These complex political tensions juxtaposed against the simple vision of peace were expressed in minimalist peaceful white painted assemblages in the form of urban alters incorporating materials from a society seemingly on the brink.
From our house in Hyde Park, Chicago, the teaching grants my husband received brought us to Italy, The Netherlands, Japan, Russia, and China.
In Japan, the Buddha, tea ceremony, tranquility and beauty of the Temples, the moss and Zen gardens, are all a part of my artistic approach and symbols. In New Mexico, the first people, their ceremonial dance, chanting, and use of symbolic feathers, have all influenced my materials and soul. The mountains of New Mexico and the experience of White Tantric Yoga and Kundalini Yoga provide a deep emotional core that has been an important source of spiritual inspiration.
These experiences and integral involvement with the changing artistic and social movements of the past half century continue with me today in my atelier along the coast of Maine. In Maine I am surrounded by the deep power of the sea, activities of the lobster men, their boats, crates, the sound of the fog horns and the eddies of water that go by our wooden cottage.
I have been a witness and active participant in the ebb and flow of artistic movements, environmental and political causes, and resulting social changes.