Morton Fine Art Presents Vonn Cummings Sumner Only Painted Fire

By Editorial Team on October 21, 2019

Sat, 26 October 2019 - Wed, 20 November 2019

Vonn Cummings Sumner, Neo-Byzantine (Red Hot), 2019, 24″x20″, oil on panel. Courtesy of Morton Fine Art.
Opening Reception: Saturday, October 26 from 2pm to 6pm

About Only Painted Fire
In the summer of 2018, I travelled to Italy to see many of my favorite paintings in person for the first time: the early Renaissance frescoes of Giotto, Masaccio, and Piero della Francesca. Though I was very familiar with the work through reproduction, seeing it with my own eyes was a transformative experience. When I returned home to California, I began a nearly life-size copy of one of my favorite panels of the Giotto frescoes at the Scrovegni chapel in Padua (alternately referred to as The Betrayal of Christ or Judas’ Kiss). I wanted to inhabit the painting, rather than just look at it; I wanted to feel what it was like to make those paintings.

During the process of copying this painting, I became intrigued with Giotto’s stylized depiction of fire, which blazed at the end of several torches along the top of the painting. I realized I had never really painted fire, and for some reason this became an irresistible challenge. At the same time, I was following the news and trying to make sense of the polarized and turbulent political climate of our time. Perhaps due to my newfound fascination with painting fire, certain phrases that commentators and pundits would use grabbed my attention: “dumpster-fire” and “trash-fire” especially, used as hyperbolic expressions of frustration and outrage.

I began to think more deeply about the uses and depictions of fire, symbolically and literally, and the ways in which humans have used fire in rituals. Fire is dangerous and out of control, which also makes it beautiful and sexy and alive. Fire is violent and destructive, which leads to change, regeneration and rebirth. We speak of ‘trial by fire’ and ‘lost torches’; passionate people can be ‘on fire” and have ‘fire in their belly.’ In California we have “Fire Season” and “high fire danger” alerts. There are “fire eaters” to entertain us, and parties that “burn down the house” and light “the roof on fire,” etc… All of these phrases and notions have been on my mind this past year as I have painted fire and searched for personal and artistic renewal.

The resulting paintings are not meant as a definitive or conclusive statement, rather as evidence of one painter engaging with the world, following a gut instinct, and doing “research paintings” in order to see what happens. The work can be seen symbolically or literally, or both; and I invite the viewer to bring their own interpretations and resonances to the occasion. No matter how we look at our current cultural moment, regardless of ideology or affiliation, it seems we are living through a time of great change. These paintings are in some way a response to that condition. – VONN SUMNER, 2019

Vonn Cummings Sumner grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, the son of a picture framer and a school teacher. Seeing the art that his father was framing, as well as travel in Europe, Central America and India shaped Sumner’s visual aesthetic during his formative years.

He attended the University of California, at Davis, where he earned both a Bachelor’s degree and an M.F.A. in painting, with highest honors. While at Davis he worked closely with Wayne Thiebaud both as a student and as a teaching assistant. Sumner also took summer classes at the San Francisco Art Institute, and is influenced by the Bay Area Figurative movement that centered around that school in the postwar period.

Sumner has exhibited nationally and internationally since 1998. He has been featured or reviewed in many publications including New American Paintings, Elle Décor, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, L.A. Weekly, Art Ltd., Riviera magazine, Hi Fructose, Cartwheel Art, The Painter’s Table, Boom magazine, and Quick Fiction. Sumner has shown regularly throughout the Los Angeles area since 2003, including in a solo museum show- Vonn Sumner: The Other Side of Here- at the Riverside Art Museum in the fall of 2008. A second solo museum exhibition, Vonn Sumner: Stages, followed in 2011 at the Phillips Museum of Art on the campus of Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania. Sumner’s paintings have been shown internationally in Venice, Italy; Manchester, England, and Switzerland. He is represented by Morton Fine Art in Washigton, DC.

Only Painted Fire marks his forth solo exhibition at Morton Fine Art.

Gallery hours:

  • Wednesday – Saturday: 12-5pm
  • Sunday – Tuesday by appointment
Morton Fine Art is located at 52 O St NW #302.