Stephen O. Sumney’s
A Deeper Understanding of Nothing Tastes Like Everything Else

by John Scarpati, Photographer

Pretty early on, I was hitting lots of openings around Southern California. I always enjoyed being part of that scene, and it was a great source of inspiration. But the idea of actually owning any of the work still hadn’t dawned on me.

Then one evening at Gene Kelly’s home in Beverly Hills, I walked into a room and saw this big painting by a guy I’d never heard of, Stephen O. Sumney. I just stood there, kind of freaking out. At that moment I was inspired to begin purchasing art for myself.

Eventually a friend ended up introducing me to Stephen, and we became great pals—even roommates for a while. He generally did a fairly tight sketch before he’d ever start in on a big canvas. The sketch for this one just spoke to me. I knew I wanted the final version even before he began painting it!

Stephen Sumney’s personal history plays a heavy role in his artistic style as well as his perception of the artist as a marketable product. Sumney’s father died when he was very young, and he grew up in California under his stepfather’s name. His mother was an artist, and he spent his childhood painting alongside her and fell in love with the art world she exposed him to. When he turned twenty years old, he moved to New York. In his seven years living there, he became highly disenchanted by how artists were made into a brand and escaped to LA. He immediately dropped his stepfather’s name and changed his identity by taking on his birth father’s name. He destroyed that contrived identity formed in New York, discovered a deeper evaluation of self, and studied the “branding” of artists. Embracing the father he never knew and fighting the branding of his own art are what drive Sumney to express himself in artwork every day.

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