Photography by Ye Rin Mok
Sonya Sombreuil, a Santa Cruz-born artist now living in LA, is best known for her streetwear line COME TEES. Much like Sonya’s own personal style, the COME TEES aesthetic is cohesive in its clever chaos - colorful symbols of punk culture and spirituality are hand-silk screened on vintage denim alongside graphic text which wavers between lyric or mantra. Sonya's overflow of output from the last year (a solo painting show, and the launch of a denim capsule collection in NYC, sported by undeniable cultural hitters like Rihanna and Kanye) indicate an artist brimming with drive.
It's impossible to deny Sonya's kindness and unique spirit as well as her nonconformist line of clothing. We spent an afternoon in Sonya's studio in West Adams, Los Angeles sifting through piles of her handmade patches while she spoke about her adolescence and evolving art practice.
How did your childhood in Santa Cruz contribute to your perspectives as an adult?
Santa Cruz is a really strange place. I was an outsider even in a town that is notoriously off-beat. My place was really at the used bookstore, the flea market and the legendary and now shuttered Goodwill Bins. I felt misunderstood, and I identified with the rarified objects I would drum up. I think a sense of isolation in Santa Cruz drove me to establish the deep experience of community I have had in my adult life.
Are there any objects or pieces of clothing which you've owned for a majority of your life?
I've had certain T-shirts and jewelry for my entire life as an adult. In particular jewelry--I began working at a silver store called Super Silver at age 14, and much of my jewelry I still rock almost daily, I acquired around then. There's pictures of me as a kid wearing a Residents t-shirt and I still wear it from time to time. Most of my favorite things to wear belonged to my mom.
Music seems to be a huge part of Cometees and your creative process - what is a song or musician you often return to?
Honestly, I was raised on a lot of reggae, and I still find myself reverting to roots reggae in between musical fascinations. I love early Wailers and I love a lot of bay area rap. I talk about this a lot, but I love late Duke Ellington and its one of the easist things for me to put on. That feels like home to me.
What’s the biggest challenge for a working artist in LA? And conversely, what’s the biggest reward?
Distraction. For much of my life I lived in places that were off the beaten path and that can be really conducive to going deep in your work. The biggest reward is the access to people and culture.
How will 2019 be different from 2018 for you?
2018 was a grind. 2019 I want to find ways to reward myself because I love working, but I need to punch out every once in a while.
What's your favorite thing about being your age right now?
My intuition gets more and more refined as I get older. I have more ability to understand circumstance and to relate to people in a deep way. When I was younger I needed people to mirror me, because I was working on defining myself, now I am much more into learning about other people.