Emerging Artists | Sonja A. Kever

Stories from the streets of Austin

Sonja A. Kever, Dave, oil, 20 x 16.

Sonja A. Kever, Dave, oil, 20 x 16.

This story was featured in the November 2015 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art November 2015 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story

Their names are Alison, Wilson, and Dave. They mostly live on the streets of Austin by day. By night they may find shelter. Their portraits are among 32 paintings by Sonja A. Kever, who has spent the past year capturing the faces of the city’s homeless. Kever listened to their stories and asked them to pose for photographs she would use as reference material back in her studio. She offered all of her subjects a modeling fee in return.

This month Kever’s haunting images are on view at Austin City Hall. The paintings have also served as backdrops for round-table discussions about issues facing the homeless in this fast-growing metropolis. The discussions sprouted up spontaneously and were not part of Kever’s original artistic goal. But as a result, community members are now banding together to present Austin’s mayor with possible solutions to the plight of the city’s disadvantaged. “I hope that the viewer can look into the eyes of the people in my portraits and see the dignity, compassion, and beauty that I see,” Kever says.

The artist studied fine art briefly at the University of Kansas but is mostly self-taught, supplemented with a number of workshops. Although once fond of painting landscapes, Kever currently creates mostly still lifes and portraits. “Give me a nose over a tree any day,” she says.

Painting the homeless presented special challenges, Kever says. For starters, she had to overcome her own apprehensions about approaching her potential models. Besides being far out of her comfort zone, another daunting challenge was her self-imposed ambitious schedule of completing one painting every two weeks to meet the deadline for the show at year’s end. However, by the time she was wrapping up the year, Kever felt such passion for the project that she found it difficult to stop; she wanted to keep adding just one more portrait.

Because her life has been “blessed,” Kever says, she is donating 100 percent of the profits from the painting sales to organizations that provide services to the homeless. “I have learned that the most downtrodden people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect,” she says. “They still have hopes and dreams beyond their need for daily survival.” —Bonnie Gangelhoff

Gallery at Round Top, Round Top, TX.

Featured in the November 2015 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
Southwest Art November2015 print issue or digital download Or subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss a story!

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