Renee Olson Sonka
After graduating from Owatonna High School in 1991, I pursued a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at Iowa State University, majoring in Art Education. My studio emphasis in college was calligraphy. I was also a dancer throughout high school, college, and into adulthood. Considering the combination of calligraphy and dance, it is perhaps no surprise that my medium of choice became Sumi-e. (“Sumi-e” is a Japanese word meaning “ink painting,” and the term encompasses many types of East Asian painting.) Sumi-e painting is like dancing in a way I have not found in any other medium. The brushstrokes are choreographed, rehearsed, and “performed,” leading to results balancing preparation and skill with spontaneity and freedom.
I have had the privilege of learning this medium Sumi-e under the guidance of many great artists and teachers including Dee Teller, Yuming Zhu, and Yudong Shen. My work has been recognized by both Eastern and Western jurors, with highlights including acceptance into the Minnesota State Fair Fine Arts Exhibition in 2015, winning a fourth-place ribbon in the watercolor category, and acceptance into the Sumi-e Society of America Annual Juried Exhibition in 2008, 2012, 2014, and 2016.
In addition to learning the brush techniques used in Sumi-e painting, I also am slowly learning about the written Chinese language. For instance, I have learned that my name, Renee, translates as Rei (prosperity/fortune) Nei (inside/within); Therefore, the title of the exhibition is Fortune Within.
While I certainly consider myself an artist and a painter, I am foremost a teacher. For over twenty years, I have taught a wide variety of mediums to a broad range of students and grade levels. I began my teaching career in Colfax, Iowa in 1995 and have been part of the Visual Arts faculty at Mounds Park Academy in St. Paul since 1998. Through art, I teach students to brainstorm, problem-solve, think visually, express their individuality, act on their ideas, contribute to our community, and more.
It is with great pleasure that I share my work with the Austin community. Thank you to the Austin ArtWorks Center for the opportunity to exhibit.