Young Artists 2021

Painter and Designer Sonya Sombreuil Wants To Stay In Her Galaxy

Kaylee Warren

Sonya Sombreuil
Sonya Sombreuil. Self-portrait, courtesy of the artist.

“I don’t want my planet to get abducted from another galaxy.” Painter and clothing designer Sonya Sombreuil understands the importance of “staying in your own orbit,” which is apparent in COME TEES, her streetwear line that blends painterly sensibilities and punk aesthetics with the earthy, country vibes retained from her childhood growing up in Santa Cruz, California.

“So many brands in this epoch have to rely on partnerships with fake, corporate brands,” says Sombreuil. “I have a vision of being autonomous. I want to be able to totally control my message and link it to an activist project.” Preserving an authentic voice is at the core of a line that originated as a “pet project” but catapulted into a successful business, bolstered by the clout garnered from Rage Against The Machine T-shirts designed for Bernie Sanders’s 2020 presidential campaign and through streetwear royals such as Kanye West and Rihanna sporting pieces from the brand. Before this rise in notoriety, however, Sombreuil was once four years old, painting at an all-ages after-school art class. Being from a small town of “mostly hippies and bigot-surfer parents,” the artist describes the class as a subculture of its own. At age 18, Sombreuil moved to western Massachusetts, where she started designing merch for local punk bands and, later, for herself and friends.

“I wanted it to be a little bit sexually suggestive, a little bit sweet, a little bit stupid,” says Sombreuil on the name COME TEES. “I’ve always really loved the word ‘come.’ It’s an invitation and a command. It’s a little opening, which is a visual motif of mine.”

Language and chance encounters serve as primary sites of discovery for the artist. “Streetwear, especially with the way it works with language, can be genius and utterly ignorant.” Sombreuil pauses to describe a time she stumbled across an old poetry book in a charity shop titled Cookie Aura that inspired a T-shirt of the same name. “COME TEES is my version of that. It’s stupid and mystical.”