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SONNY EXCLUSIVE
NYC

Photo by John Dominé @johndomine1

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NYC

Photo by Tessa Cunliffe

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Canada

Photo by Tessa Cunliffe

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Tiger, Amsterdam

Photo by Tess Cunliffe

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The Buitengraght Wolf, Cape Town

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Jelani, Johannesburg

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Transkei Cheetah, Transkei

Photo by Tessa Cunliffe

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The Leap, Johannesburg

Photo by Peter Primich

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The Break, Johannesburg

Photo by Tessa Cunliffe

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Woodstock Eagle, Cape Town

Photo by Tammy Fabian

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Spin, Johannesburg

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Graveyard for the Forgotten, Johannesburg

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Little Girl, Johannesburg

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Speakers Corner, Cape Town

You have a true passion for wildlife and believe they are an integral part of our own human landscape and tied closely to our ability to thrive as humans. Have you always had a passion for animal preservation? Do you feel that this passion is in any way related to your cultural heritage, growing up in South Africa?

Yes definitely. When I moved to South Africa from the UK at 11 years old, I was immediately fascinated by the wildlife. That’s why when I started painting they quickly became the main subjects of my work, as I found each one so captivating and so different. The more I learnt about them, the more I started to understand the issues they’re facing and why so many species are endangered and under threat. So, growing up in South Africa definitely gave me huge respect for the animals as well as exposing me to these issues. For South Africans, wildlife conservation is often a priority, but I think in other countries, it’s sometimes easily forgotten about. That’s why I want to paint murals in these places around the world, so that I can hopefully start a conversation around it and get people thinking about these issues.

Photos by Tess Cunliffe @tesscunliffe

You are a fearless, versatile artist who navigates between canvas and large-scale murals. How did your career as an artist begin? Did you study art formally?

Nope, I’ve never had any formal training and didn’t even take art as a subject in high school. But I did always love to draw, I just never took it very seriously. I was really into comics, manga, and character-based stuff during school. I only began to get into it properly at about age 23/24, when some friends and I decided to fix up our band room – I was really into guitar and music back then. I decided to airbrush the entire room and ceiling, quite a crazy ambition considering that I had no clue how to paint at all. I started from scratch from that point, teaching myself about art and mainly focusing on colour theory, airbrushing, photoshop etc. and began to get creative, stumbling on a talent that had been dormant I guess. I’d always been interested in street art and it became a major influence and after a few indoor murals, I did my first two street murals (12m x 15m) back to back at the end of 2014. That was it – I was totally hooked!

For the last year you have been on an inspiring mission to raise awareness surrounding the animal extinction crisis we’re currently facing. With your project ‘To the Bone’ you have embarked on a world tour painting large-scale murals in as many locations as you can. You recently painted a stunning lion Mural in NYC and a grizzly bear in Ontario, Canada. Can you tell me more about how you choose the cities you paint in and how you apply and adapt your overall mission to each new place you visit?

Yes, it has been quite a project to put together. It seems I don’t really take baby steps in life, haha. And I’m so thankful Tess came on board to project manage it all. The project started with painting ten canvases, showcasing endangered animals from around the world. My original plan was to paint murals of these animals in the countries that they come from so that I could show the local people how important these animals are to them and their heritage. But at the same time, I also wanted to paint in major cities such as New York, London, LA etc., as these places are so influential. A lot of the fight to protect these animals is actually done in court houses far away from where the animals actually live. A lot of it comes down to legislation. So, this is my general idea, but I am trying to keep the tour quite fluid, allowing it to grow organically and take me in different directions. It’s a global issue at the end of the day and one that everyone should be aware of.

Photos by Tess Cunliffe @tesscunliffe

You have a series of canvas work and exclusive prints that you are also creating for ‘To the Bone’, where 10% of the profits will go to IFAW’s Russia tiger work and South Africa landscape work. You hand paint skull replicas that showcase endangered animals from around the world. How do you choose which particular animals you showcase and what inspired you to create this series?

With difficulty! There are so many endangered species in the world, it’s scary! The first animal in the series I painted was the gorilla. I think I was inspired by a documentary I had watched. From there I sat down to sort of structure how many and which animals I would focus on. It became really difficult to narrow it down with so many species that are endangered, but I had to limit it to ten due to the level of detail I wanted to put into the paintings. I chose a few local animals close to home that I had a personal connection with such as the leopard, elephant, rhino, lion and gorilla. I then tried to spread out the remaining five to include some of the most iconic endangered animals around the globe such as the tiger, as well as some of the most critical such as the Mexican Wolf that has been estimated to have less than two years left in the wild. Hopefully, I can also include some more murals of different animals as the project grows.

You are completing your world art tour with an exhibition in London. Can you tell me more about this culminating event?

Yes, my hope is that through the murals I can not only raise awareness, but also encourage people to either donate to the cause or purchase an artwork to help raise funds for my conservation partner, IFAW. At the exhibition, I will be auctioning one of the original artworks with 100% of proceeds going to the cause. Then 10% of all the remaining originals and prints will also be going to IFAW’s projects including their Russia tiger work and landscape work in South Africa. I will be accepting donations on behalf of IFAW from visitors, and there will be a few exciting additions to the artwork for sale. Details about the exhibition are still to be announced, but people can subscribe to the To The Bone mailer to find out.

Where are you headed next? Do you have the rest of your tour planned out definitively?

I just finished up another mural in SoHo, NY in support of Discovery’s Project CAT, which has secured 1, 000, 000 acres of land on the border of India and Bhutan for the preservation of wild tigers. Next, I’m heading to Vladivostok, Russia to visit some of the projects that are run by IFAW and to see first-hand the incredible work they are doing to help protect tigers, bears and Amur leopards in this area. I will also be painting a mural there, which I’m really excited about. From there I head to London, Ireland, Amsterdam. I’m hoping to also finalize murals in Rwanda, Mexico, China and India soon. There is also the option for people to sponsor a mural in their city, so hopefully the tour will grow.

Photos by Tess Cunliffe @tesscunliffe

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1 Comment
  1. An honour to connect with a fellow animal crusader! Sonny’s mission is so prevalent to today’s animal conservation issues. Please think about donating to this important cause.