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John Sonsini, a Los Angeles-based painter, has created a wonderful series of portraits of Mexican day workers, whom he paid their usual hourly wages to pose in his studio, fully clothed in straightforward standing or seated positions. Some canvases present single figures, some groups of as many as six men. Mr. Sonsini paints with wide brushes and lusciously thick, richly colored paint. He is not an artist for whom the portrait is simply a convenient armature for adventures in pure painting. He saves the empty backgrounds for expressionistic improvisation in glowing pastel pinks, powder blues and pale yellows. An affectionately particularized, near life-size representation of a man dressed in work clothes or casual clothes emerges from each picture. There are distortions: the men have oversize arms, hands and feet, which give them a slightly caricatured look. But subtleties of posture and facial expressions -- some look wary, some tired, some curious -- and details of clothing keep the figures from becoming generic.
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