Using the art of portraiture as a tool of political empowerment, Apolonia Sokol’s figurative paintings introduce portraiture and autofiction into scenes inspired by canonical works from art history and contemporary issues around feminism and queer identity. Reflecting on gendered representation throughout history and body politics, her paintings often depict her friends, lovers and collaborators as icons of radical subjectivity, bound together by alternative kinships, surrounding, protecting and elevating each other. Sokol’s paintings are characterized by her close relationships and intimacy with the models she paints, at times also inviting painter friends to work collaboratively.
Distinctive for their flat, painterly style and striking colors that the artist creates herself using natural pigments, Sokol’s paintings often present a 1:1 scale. They position the subject’s eyes in direct confrontation with the viewer’s gaze, evoking a repossession of their own identities and stories, conveying simultaneously a sense of boundary and its trangression, of strength through vulnerability. Positioned in open perspectives and unusually flat, often interior spaces, the figures seem to respond to the space of the painting with their extended, elongated and angled limbs.
Through her iconographic engagement with art historical canon and her choice of subjects such as childbirth, abortion, public demonstrations, and racialized and/or queer bodies, Sokol seeks to witness and affect the present while revealing the blindspots of Western painting and troubling male-centric histories of art and their omissions. Her painting “Le Printemps” (2020) for example, stages a group of trans and non-binary women in response to Boticelli’s painting of the same title, operating an inversion of its iconography to complexify questions around marriage, rape and pregnancy from a queer perspective. In another example, “The Cure” (2023), which borrows the form of an altarpiece, the artist depicts scenes from her studio centering on her artistic collaborators as purveyors of care and the process of painting as one of healing; while she references Villeneuve-lès-Avignon’s “Pietà” but replaces the central figure with a self-portrait, activating the history of hysteria in relation to the female body.
Apolonia Sokol (b. 1988, Paris) lives and works in Paris, France
A French figurative painter of Danish and Polish descent, Sokol graduated from the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Paris in 2015 and moved first to New York where she worked in Dan Colen’s studio, then to Los Angeles where she found a community of artists to exchange around figurative painting.
Her latest solo exhibition “Entre tes yeux et les images que j’y vois (A Sentimental Choice), was held at Fondation Pernod Ricard (Paris, 2022), preceded by “You Better Paint Me*” and “I Had Trouble Sleeping, But She Said She Loved Me…” at THE PILL (Istanbul, 2022 & 2018); “Attic”, a duo presentation with Walker Evans, Sebastien Ricou (Brussels, 2016) and “Process Is Desire”, whitcher projects (Los Angeles, 2016). Her work has been exhibited in several institutional group shows such as “Immortelle”, MO.CO Panacee (Montpellier, 2023); “L’ami·e modèle” (Commissioned by Yvon Lambert Foundation), Viva Villa, MUCEM (Marseille, 2022); “Women Painting Women”, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth (Texas, 2022); “Women and Change”, ARKEN Museum for Modern Art (Copenhagen, 2022); “She - Classicità”, Polana Institute (Warsaw, 2021); “Conversation Piece | Part VII Towards Narragonia”, Fondazione Memmo, (Rome, 2021); “ECCO”, Villa Médicis (Rome, 2021); “Tainted Love II”, (Villa Arson, Nice, 2019) and “En Forme de Vertige”, Révélation Emerige Prize, Villa Emerige (Paris, 2017).
In 2020, Apolonia Sokol was the laureate of the prestigious Academy of France and became one of the residents of Villa Medici for 2020-2021. In 2023 the HBO produced documentary “Apolonia, Apolonia” directed by Léa Glob which follows Sokol’s life and career over a decade had a sweeping run at film festivals across the globe, including Best Feature Length documentary at IDFA, Best Documentary at Hong Kong International Film Festival and Best Nordic Documentary at Goteborg Film Festival.
Sokol teaches at the Fine Arts Academy of Caen, Esam.
The New York Times | September 2021
Didier Semin | Apolonia Sokol, or the art of reshuffling the cards
Victorine Grataloup | You Better Paint Me
Documentary Assossiation of Europe | 2022
Marc Donnadieu | Art & Commitment: A Focus on the French Scene