Morton Fine Art Presents Vonn Sumner Bread and Circuses (and Walls)

By Editorial Team on September 13, 2017
Vonn Sumner, Bread and Circuses II, 2017 20″x16″, oil on canvas. Courtesy of Morton Fine Art.
Opening Reception: Friday, September 15 form 6pm to 8pm

Vonn Sumner’s fine paintings are equivocal visual wonders. They are painted worlds that reflect a bright clarity interrupted by mysterious bewilderments.

Ideas and concepts are overwhelmed by emphathic feelings suspending us in a tension between answers and questions provoking and teasing us into a long and careful looking…perhaps, a look of a lifetime?
-Wayne Thiebaud, 2015

About Bread and Circuses (and Walls)
I dedicate this show to the memory of my grandmother, Selsa, whose family had been in California since it was Mexico. I was the seventh generation of that lineage born and raised in what is now known as the San Francisco Bay Area, and even my ancestors were ‘immigrants’ to that region. Borders move and change over time, walls are built and then crumble, but the human spirit – and especially the ‘art spirit’ – endures. I try to use colors, shapes, marks, and paint to conjure, capture, and convey that spirit.

I don’t remember where I first came across this idea, but it has stuck with me ever since: an artist’s job description is ‘to sing reality.’ Sometimes what we call reality becomes very strange-and the artist may therefore sing a strange song.

Walls have been a motif in my paintings for more than a decade, but until recently they were always personal symbols and useful visual elements. Now the idea of a wall has taken on a new and sad relevance, but I am constantly surprised by their symbolic power. Our tendency to erect walls is always accompanied by our urge to topple them.

Masked and costumed figures and heads have also been a constant subject matter for me, but again the current political climate has sharpened my imagery. The phrase ‘bread and circuses’ is borrowed from the Roman satirical poet Juvenal, from around 100 A.D., who observed that political control could be maintained by keeping the populace preoccupied with cheap snacks and distracting entertainment.

To live in the world is to participate in hypocrisy and contradiction. To live in the U.S. is to be complicit in shameful injustice and inequality. To address any of this through art is perilous and foolish, I know, but sometimes it feels worse not to try.

I do not intend any set interpretation—no simple didactic message—except to try in earnest to not deny my frustrations and concerns. I do not subscribe to any specific political ideology, but I do believe in the inherent subversive potential of art to remain somehow independent and human, and to resist and expose the ugly mask of power. I don’t think that art can change the world, only people can do that, but I know that art can change people.
– Vonn Sumner, 2017

About Vonn Sumner
Vonn Cummings Sumner grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, the son of a picture framer in an artistic family. Frequent trips to museums 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. While at UC Davis he worked closely with Wayne Thiebaud both as a student and as a teaching assistant. He 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 1997. He has been featured or reviewed in many publications including New American Paintings, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The Houston Chronicle, L.A. Weekly, Art Ltd., Riviera magazine, Artsy, Hi Fructose, Juxtapoz, Vice, Cartwheel, Elle Décor, and featured on the cover of Boom magazine and Quick Fiction. Sumner has had two solo museum exhibitions – Vonn Sumner: The Other Side of Here– at the Riverside Art Museum in 2008 and Vonn Sumner: Stages, in 2011 at the Phillips Museum of Art in Pennsylvania.

Bread and Circuses (and Walls) is Vonn Sumner’s third solo exhibition at Morton Fine Art.

Click here to view available artwork by Vonn Sumner.

Gallery Hours:

  • Tuesday – Saturday: 11am to 6pm
  • Sunday: 12pm to 5pm

Morton Fine Art is located at 1781 Florida Ave. NW. For further information, visit