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Justin Sonny Eagles paints life, grit and all 

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Painter Justin Sonny Eagles doesn’t hesitate to tackle darker subjects in his paintings. When we talk on the phone, he’s working on a series of pieces based on stories told to him by an older friend, filtered in part through his own experiences.

“This isn’t about his experience in Vietnam, but his experience trying to come home... the way he put it, it took him 40 years to come home,” Eagles says. “It’s a very dark story, but at the end, there’s freedom.”

The pieces themselves won’t be directly about Eagles’ friend or PTSD and combat veterans. They’re more about being trapped in a dark place, whether physical or emotional, and trying to find peace and a way home.

“I like to make the viewer search and look within themselves,” he says. “I think that’s kind of more fun than doing a direct painting most of the time.”

A self-described working-class stiff, Eagles hails from Long Island, though he moved to Colorado Springs when he was around 8 or 9, he says — he’s now in his early 30s. He describes his father as a tough guy from Brooklyn, a former gang member who started a family later in life. Eagles says he only recently felt he “grew up a little strange.”

Though Eagles hasn’t had a formal arts education, he grew up drawing cartoons and comic books. In his teens, he discovered the works of Swiss artist H.R. Giger, best known for designing the iconic Xenomorphs from the Alien film franchise. Giger’s surreal, psychosexual works showed Eagles that he could express whatever he wanted, however he wanted.

Eagles’ paintings are very textural — every stroke has to serve the concept and tell the story. And he’s not shy about using ground-up dried paint or powder pigments to add roughness. He hopes that his technique and brushstrokes read not just for those with formal arts training.

“I just want people to understand how to look at paintings. It’s not just the image, it’s the brushwork,” he says. “You may not know music, but if you hear a guy play a badass guitar solo, you’ll be like ‘Man, that guy can play.’”

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