Coming of age with a group of artists that included Lynda Benglis, Mary Heilmann, Bruce Nauman and Richard Serra, he uses a post-minimalist language that is physically immediate yet associative. American critic Donald Kuspit remarks, ‘Sonnier’s sculpture attracts our attention, like semaphore signals from a strange zone of feeling’.
Four major early neon works made between 1968 and 1970 transform the 19th-century architecture of the Gallery. ‘Neon has always been a material in signage that one lays flat, and one in fact writes with. But I began to lift it from the board, and pull out into space, and use it in a much more three-dimensional form’. He combines neon with other industrial materials like glass, foam rubber and wiring. Geometric form contrasts with dashes of colour and a luminous glow to suggest the syntax of poetry and a nod to Sonnier’s roots in the multi-lingual, Creole culture of Louisiana.