Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Jeff Soto's Apocalyptic Nostalgia

The ominous, volatile yet playful work of Jeff Soto reaches for a glimmer of hope in the wake of overwhelming destruction. Fundamentally bound to his hometown of Riverside, California, Jeff hews to the everyday visuals of SoCal suburban life — big-box stores, telephone poles, weird plants, children's toys and graffiti. Staying ahead of his imitators, he continues to evolve his imagery while addressing his core obsessions — nature vs. humanity, birth vs. death, futurism vs. nostalgia, beauty vs. decay.

"Nature's Splendor"

Last summer, while I was working on the material for the forthcoming Heroes & Villains book, Jeff was kind enough to give me some of his time and a great interview. Since the book can't be a thousand pages long — unfortunately — I thought I'd share it in its entirety as a little Christmas treat for everyone.


Erratic Phenomena: Tell me about your childhood, growing up with three brothers in a blue-collar family in the Los Angeles suburbs of Fullerton and Riverside. You've said you used to draw with your father, on the back side of sheets of newsprint he would bring home from work. Did becoming an artist seem distant and unattainable when you were a kid, or were there people in your life who encouraged your artistic impulse at an early age?

Jeff Soto: My parents both dabbled in art and were artistic people. They still are today, even though they never took an artistic path in their careers. I think they liked that I had an early fascination with drawing and painting. They let me have fun with it, and were supportive when I began to grow into adulthood. As a kid, I made art about my family and what I was watching on TV, mostly. So it was a lot of cartoons, pop culture, stuff like that. I also made drawings of things like "the perfect day," or "the most radical car," just fun stuff, exploring my world and figuring it all out. I never really knew what "being an artist" meant — I was not exposed to any working artists and had no clue what to do or how to go about pursuing it as a career as I got older. I had to figure it out on my own and in college.

"The Corruption of Mankind"

EP: You grew up steeped in your father's science fiction collection, and particularly loved Ray Bradbury's classic tales of mankind's atomic folly, The Martian Chronicles. Growing up near March Air Reserve Base as the Cold War wound down, you were haunted by the specter of nuclear destruction. You've often cited Swan Song — novelist Robert McCammon's epic 1988 novel about the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust — as a major influence on your development. What did you find most compelling about those books? How do you think the constant dread of those years impacted your outlook on life as an adult?

Jeff: I read Swan Song when I was 11 or 12, and it was the first 1000+ page book I finished. It was like a grown-up Wizard of Oz — it was quite an adventure, but with sex and violence and nuclear mutations. I took my time reading it one summer, and it blew my mind. It brought up so many of my fears, and really opened my eyes up to what was going on politically with our nuclear arsenal. Then I dove into more factual books about nuclear war and politics, and it just scared the shit out of me.

"Sun and the Moon"

EP: You often speak of your beloved childhood hangout, an abandoned lot called Twin Palms, where you and your friends skated and painted to your hearts' content. Do you think unsupervised creative/destructive activity like that is a valuable experience for kids? Will today's ultra-protected and hyper-scheduled children be missing out on a vital source of creative growth?

Jeff: Things do seem a little different these days — kids really don't seem to be out as much. When I was in high school in the early ‘90s, I remember kids and teenagers were always outside, playing in the streets, skating, playing basketball. No one had computers yet in the home and TV sucked, so you'd have to get out and do things in your neighborhood. We were always looking for something to do, getting into trouble, getting into adventures. We definitely destroyed some things — as a teenager I did some stuff I'm not very proud of — but we were also out in the world, experiencing things, and having a great time with our friends.

Today, kids are way more sheltered. In most homes, both parents work, so these kids are coming home from school and getting on their computers and cell phones. Maybe the world is not as safe, or maybe nothing has really changed — all I know is that I was surrounded by some pretty smart and creative kids, some of whom also liked to destroy shit, and yeah, I think it did somehow add to my creativity and ideas about art. But I think the kids who search will find their own version of Twin Palms.


EP: In late 1989 — your sophomore year in high school — you created both your first graffiti piece and your first oil painting. Though you painted graffiti — as Trek and sometimes Kilo — all over the Southland, you became disillusioned with it after a while, and in fact you did your last piece about a decade ago, in 2000. When you began, did the worlds of graffiti and fine art seem very distinct from one another?

Jeff: The first graffiti I saw was a Jim Phillips skateboard graphic, the one he did for Jeff Kendall. It's kinda funny, because he was trying to make authentic-looking graffiti and I copied what he was doing, so I was really copying from a copy. I also saw some graffiti in movies and skateboard magazines and was intrigued. I didn't see any N.Y.C. or L.A. graffiti until I'd been painting a few months, and those pieces blew my mind and gave me an idea of the "correct" way to be painting. There was no previous history of hip-hop style graffiti in Riverside, and when I started in 1989, I was the only writer. There were taggers and gang writers, but no one was working large-scale with colors. It was fun — we didn't know what the fuck we were doing, and we were oblivious to the well-developed graf scene happening in L.A.

Early on, I knew more about graf than fine art — I didn't really know a fine art world existed, I just liked to paint. When I started learning about galleries that were showing graffiti, I had mixed opinions. At first I was more of a graffiti purist, I felt it had no place in galleries — it should be out on the street only. As I got older, I started to see things differently. I painted for about 11 years and then quit in 2000. I think I was burnt out, and I was going on to other things, in particular exploring painting further. Back then writers were very strict, experimentation was not very big, it was all about bright colors, clean can control and tradition. I was also fed up with writers’ squabbles and thug mentality. Things started changing after I quit — and yeah, it's been a decade, and I'm slowly getting back into painting walls now. I'm not going to call it graffiti though — more like "art on walls."

NYC mural 2010

EP: When you were young, your family lost its home in Riverside to the first Bush recession. You've said that you look back on that house as "a sacred place full of memories," and you painted it recently, for your exhibition at the Riverside Art Museum, surrounded by the apocalyptic storm clouds that have become a hallmark of your work. You are clearly deeply attached to your home turf — both the places you have lived and played, and to the gritty yet colorful subculture indigenous to the Inland Empire. Tell me a bit about what ties you to this place.

Jeff: Well, nostalgia is a big part of my work, and that show in particular dealt with my younger years, growing up in Riverside. That house is where I fell in love with my wife Jennifer. I did most of my growing up there, it's where I decided to try and make art as a career. I have tons of fond memories of the place, but it was also hard times. My dad got laid off — he was on unemployment, and my brother and I were working minimum wage jobs, but eventually my parents lost the house. It was really tough on them, and as the oldest, it was tough on me, as well. We got through it all, and maybe it made us stronger.

I'm not sure why we still live here. Maybe I was lazy or afraid of change earlier in my life. Maybe I was always too poor to move away. Now we have two kids, and all their cousins live out here, so we want to stay put. It's like anywhere, really — it's got its good and bad points. There are things I don't like and things I love out here.

"Riverside Lifer Totem"

EP: The raincross bell – originally designed by the eccentric Frank Miller, who built the Mission Inn in Riverside – appears throughout your body of work. Is that symbol simply another way of saying "Riversider" for you, or does it hold a deeper meaning?

Jeff: I guess I'm kinda making fun of the place I live. People have such Riverside pride — you see the raincross all over town. I actually like the way it looks, too.

"Crying Is Alright"

EP: You abruptly walked away from your immensely popular robot series because you began to feel that your collectors weren't really understanding what you were trying to say, because they were distracted by their fascination with your iconography. Was there something in particular that prompted to you to make this bold decision?

Jeff: I've always been the type of artist who likes a challenge, and painting the same thing or the same character has never really kept me feeling fulfilled in my work. It was probably a bad decision monetarily, but I started to feel like "the robot guy," and I felt that I had more to offer. I like to keep myself open and free, and I think my fans know and understand that I like to change things up a bit from show to show.

"Don't Grow Up Too Fast"

EP: In 2006, your palette suddenly brightened, incorporating cartoony rainbows and cobalt blues that hadn't been seen before. At the same time, textures became lusher and softer, and a ray of hope began to peek through the clouds. You've attributed this shift to the birth of your first daughter — which introduced brightly colored toys and fuzzy stuffed animals into your environment, and changed your perspective on the state of the world.

Jeff: It was a powerful moment when we had our first daughter, Shannon. Really, everything changed on the spot, and I realized I was a grownup with heavy grownup responsibilities. Anytime there is such a big life-changing event, it's bound to affect an artist's work. I took things more seriously and felt some dread, knowing my girl was going to inherit this messed-up world. By the time we had our second daughter last year, I was feeling more optimistic — or maybe I just don't give a shit about all the world's problems anymore. There's enough we have to worry about, just raising our two kids.

"Fly Away"

EP: Do you think it might be possible for art to influence the path humanity takes into the future?

Jeff: I think mass media art, like movies and music, does influence humanity all the time. Paintings, maybe not — they aren't very accessible to earth's population. Though things are pretty easy to find on the internet nowadays. Still, paintings don't move you to emotion as easily as a well-made movie.

"Rusty Swingset"

EP: You often speak of a sense of nostalgia for the ephemera of your past — your old toys, boyhood drawings and family photographs. Do you think a longing for the lost wonder and innocence of childhood — as symbolized by a fascination with things like cartoons, retro toys and the swiftly-disappearing natural world — is a hallmark of the art movement in which you find yourself? Some in the "fine art" world dismiss nostalgic art as mere kitsch, but can anything that impacts the emotions so profoundly truly be less valuable than the shallow intellectual conceits of conceptual art?

Jeff: For the most part, I don't worry about what the "fine art" world thinks of my work. It's a non-issue to me. Most artists my age were heavily inspired by things in pop culture — MTV, skateboarding, hip-hop, etc. — and nostalgia is a big part of that. I love to reminisce, I love to think back and revel in how simple things were in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Of course, my parents wouldn't say it was simple! I like to make art about whatever I want. I don't really set out rules. And I think some in the fine art world do write some of this off as kitsch, but there are many that are starting to look at this movement seriously.


EP: You often reference Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, the 1984 post-apocalyptic animated film that began Hayao Miyazaki's storied directing career. Some of your figures remind me a bit of elements in that film — the giant helmet that Nausicaä emerges from when she leaves the insects' forest, the Ohmu's tentacles and convex glowing eyes, the melting God Soldier which destroys itself in its malevolent rage. When did you first see the film, and what impression did it make on you then? How has your relationship with the ideas in the film developed over time?

Jeff: I saw Nausicaä in 1986, when I was eleven years old, only it was the English-dubbed version called Warriors of the Wind. I loved the art, but the story didn't make much sense. Still, we had it on VHS and I watched it all the time. Years later, when I was like 30, I finally got to see the original, and I felt it was one of the most beautiful stories I'd ever seen. It is in my top five movies, and I still get teary-eyed at the end. Miyazaki definitely influenced my young mind!

"Floating in the Garden"

EP: What's on the horizon for you? Hopes, dreams, plans for the future?

Jeff: I just came off a crazy year, and I'm trying to take things a little slower. For the first time in years, I don't know what the future holds, and I'm okay with that.

Miami mural 2009

Monday, December 6, 2010

Martin Wittfooth and Mike Brown's Abstruse Augury

Thought I'd give everyone a heads-up about this weekend's show at Roq la Rue, which will showcase the magnificent Martin Wittfooth and Mike Brown, who have each given me terrific interviews in the not-so-distant past. If you're in Seattle, make sure to drop by and take in their apocalyptic beasts and cryptic revelations this Friday, December 10th.

Martin Wittfooth "The Devil's Playground"

Mike Brown "Imposter"

Martin Wittfooth "New Suns"

Mike Brown "Failure of Perception"

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Tiffany Bozic's Natural Philosophy

I consider Tiffany Bozic to be more than a painter — she also is a science junkie, expert bird-skinner and wanderlust-stricken natural philosopher who transmogrifies her unique intimacy with rare and wonderful things into exquisite visual poetry about spiritual evolution and our relationship with nature. In anticipation of her upcoming exhibition, which opens on November 11th at Joshua Liner Gallery in New York, we decided to share this interview, conducted earlier this year for the Heroes & Villains book — which is scheduled for release in the spring.

"Under My Skin"

Erratic Phenomena: Tell me a bit about your early childhood on a goat farm in Russellville, Arkansas. Was your family part of the back-to-the-land movement? Was that era of your life carefree, or was there a darker undertone to rural life on the edge of the Ozarks?

Tiffany Bozic: My mother was raised on a farm and couldn’t get it out of her system, so she talked my father into moving down to Arkansas, where land was tremendously affordable. Though some of our fondest thoughts took place on the farm, it was also unbearably difficult and traumatic at times, because of the rising cost of feed and utilities. We were poor, and there was just too much for my parents to do, working full-time jobs and taking care of 350 goats, horses, pigs, three kids, etc.

Like so many children, I lived in a fantasy world and had complete freedom to dream and explore, so it is easy for me to romanticize it. Some of my first memories were of animals giving birth, and of taking the animals — ones that we had given names to to the slaughterhouse. I came to accept that this was just a part of life. In the end, we had to sell off all the animals, load up all of our belongings in two trucks, and abandon the farm. We drove up to Cleveland hoping for a fresh start, and it was there I spent the rest of my childhood.

"The Birds and the Bees"

EP: You've said you still long for the sense of communion with animals that you had as a child, when you felt they were telling you their secrets. Mark Ryden speaks of recapturing the state of childhood in which we see "a world ensouled," when it feels as if we have a direct connection to the life force of the universe. Is that sense of wonder something you can still access when you need to?

TB: Well, I don’t think of it in exactly the same way, but I do believe that I was born with a heightened sense of this feeling that everything is connected. In ways, this feeling has been a lifelong companion, and now I trust it more than ever as I continue to cultivate my relationship to my work.

"She Will Supply"

EP: In the past, you've recalled early memories of drawing at the kitchen table with your older brother and sister. Tell me a bit about those early artistic explorations, and how they made you feel.

TB: My parents were interesting characters and encouraged us to enjoy creating. My mother, in particular, was a gifted artist, but unfortunately she didn’t have time to pursue her talents. My brother and sister were both very good at drawing as well, but I guess I was the only one that left my childhood thinking that this was the only way I could live, for better or worse.

"Finding Real"

EP: When you were six, your electrician father and schoolteacher mother moved your family to Cleveland. Was relocating from the country to the city a difficult experience? Do you think perhaps your current state of being living in San Francisco, while longing to travel to remote, wild places was influenced by that early psychological and geographic transition?

TB: Well, once we got to Cleveland there were a number of difficult emotional transitions that I underwent, and therefore I never truly felt at home in Cleveland which is why I left for the west coast at such a young age. Early on, I saw myself as a citizen of the world, and after traveling and developing friendships with people from all over the world, I feel this is especially true now. I don’t think there is a ‘home’ left for me. My home resides in the people I love.

"Shaped by Reaction"

EP: Do you remember when you first became fascinated with naturalism? Did scientific observation of living things seem almost second nature to you, or was there something in particular that first sparked your interest?

TB: Because I was so heavily immersed in nature as a child, it is hard for me to separate myself from it, or define if there was ever a moment that it sort of clicked over for me. My parents were nature lovers, and I’ve always been drawn towards others who feel the same sense of captivation and wonder with the natural world.


EP: Harkening back to the sublime artistry of naturalists like John James Audubon and Ernst Haeckel, there was once a time when art and science were almost inextricably bound together. You've endeavored to relink them in your work, with your adventures in Papua New Guinea with a team of biologists, and your collaboration with the California Academy of Sciences. How were you first inspired to take these ostensibly documentary-style images and transform them into surreal elegies about human emotion and the vanishing natural world?

TB: I suppose it all came together quite organically, as a result of me being a bit of a science groupie. Just kidding I am very grateful to be a part of a group of incredibly interesting people who are motivated by a sense of playful excitement. I am a student of life and am constantly turning stones searching for a way to translate my emotions through my work. For now, my subconscious has taken over and has cast little critters to star in my psychological thrillers. But who knows how long this will continue.

"Fading Rose"

EP: Your life with your ornithologist husband has recently taken you to a number of remote, exotic locales where you can observe rare species firsthand, and often literally in your hand. As a result, you are one of the very few people painting the natural world today who have such an intimate connection with their subject. How have these experiences changed you as a person, and as an artist?

TB: What this has meant for me personally and in my work has been extremely profound. When I see an artist depict something that they may not actually be familiar with, I can tell right away. Even though Audubon and Haeckel spent a lot of time outdoors studying the personality and characteristics of their subjects, there was still a lot of blank space to fill. To capture all the detail, oftentimes Audubon had to resort to referencing dead specimens, and you can occasionally see it in the unnatural way he posed his birds. To his credit, usually only birders can notice the difference. Haeckel overcame this through sheer genius. For example, where only small parts of animals were dredged up from the bottom of the sea, and because they were new to science, he had to sort of let his imagination take care of the rest. Which is what I feel makes his work truly awesome and full of spirit.

Getting the chance to observe nature firsthand is not always easy to do, and happens in varying degrees for most realist painters, myself included. Most of us not just artists feel so separate from not only the outdoors, but from the very idea that we are in fact animals. I imagine it wouldn’t be too difficult to find one grown adult in each American city today who has never actually held a chicken or touched a cow, yet they may consume one every day.

"Barrens of Suburbia"

EP: Working in acrylic washes on maple panels, you achieve a soft translucency that allows the natural glow of the wood to shine through. How did you arrive at this somewhat unusual technique? What do you find to be the advantages and disadvantages of working this way?

TB: I dropped out of art school right after my first year, so this is just a self-taught game of trial and error. I first started exploring acrylic on wood in 1999, and somehow the medium has kept my interest until now. I still find it challenging, unforgiving, and truthfully, there are no short cuts. I think if it were easy for me, I would tire quickly and move on to something else. In many ways, the actual technical process I’ve developed over the years more closely resembles using watercolor than acrylic. I like the way the paint shimmers on the wood there is an interesting depth that I can create on the surface with this technique that would be hard (or impossible) to create any other way.


EP: You once revealed that your mouse-sphere painting was an attempt to describe what you call the "little big dream," in which everything seems microscopically tiny and infinitely huge at the same time. Though rarely described, I think this is a fairly universal and very powerful archetype. Could you describe your conceptual process on this piece what choices you made in searching for a way to convey that abstract idea?

TB: I made this painting after my husband and I spent some time up in northern California studying spotted owls. We were quietly crawling through redwoods and ferns under pitch darkness, calling them in with hoots. As part of our study, we would hold out a white mouse on a short stick, to see if the owls would swoop down and take it from us. Then we would watch to see if they would either eat it right away, or not. If they flew off with it, it would tell us whether or not they have a chick to feed. If they ate the mouse, well, they were hungry.

The “little big dream” is filled with anxiety and intense loneliness, and a great feeling of claustrophobia at the same time. I had this dream brewing in my mind ever since I was a child, so I thought at the time that this experience with the owls could help me explain that mood somehow. So I ‘saved’ one of the mice, named him Number Two and took him home from this trip with us to keep as a model for this painting. Sometimes you just need a little help from a friend, and I couldn’t have done it without him.

"Eat or Be Eaten"

EP: From time to time, you employ a certain stylization reminiscent of Henri Rousseau's jungle fever-dreams. Would you say that his aesthetic or ideas have informed your work in any way?

TB: When I was a little girl, I saw a painting by Henri Rousseau of a tiger attacking a water buffalo at the Cleveland Museum of Art, and I remember at the time thinking, “I see like that.” So there is something there.

"White Chalk"

EP: What other painters or illustrators from the past move you powerfully, and what aspects of their work do you find most intriguing?

TB: Honestly, I don’t think I have ever looked at a painting and felt truly moved to tears, like the way music touches me. But maybe if I were a musician, I would love emotion conveyed visually, who knows. I feel up until now I have for some unknown reason an absolute need to paint, and it is the daily process of creating that keeps me going.


EP: If you could hang just one classic painting from history on the wall of your studio, what would it be?

TB: Aaah, yes! This is an easy one for me. They may not be classic yet, but they will be! I would love to feature four paintings called the “Nova Series” by my dear friend Isabella Kirkland.

"The Raft"

EP: Is there anything else you're finding really inspiring right now?

TB: Yes, giving and sharing. Love is my inspiration.

"First Frost"

EP: What's on the horizon for you? Hopes, dreams, plans for the future?

TB: I have a solo show in New York coming up on November 11, 2010 at the Joshua Liner Gallery. I have been having a lot of fun exploring new ideas for it. Other than that, I hope to continue to grow, travel, and explore the unknown.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Five Years of Thinkspace

This month marks five years since the opening of Thinkspace, the Culver City gallery where my dear friends Andrew, Shawn and LC regularly go out on a limb to showcase the work of a great many groundbreaking artists. Make sure to come out to their anniversary group exhibition this Saturday, November 6th, which boasts an impressive array of the artists they've introduced over the years, including Audrey Kawasaki, Andrew Hem, Ekundayo, Natalia Fabia and Johnny Rodriguez, as well as some stunning work from the artists they will be featuring in the future, like João Ruas, Scott Radke, Kelly Vivanco, Pakayla Rae Biehn, Kevin Titzer and Lindsey Carr. If you'd like to find out more about Thinkspace, check out my interview with Andrew and LC from earlier this year. In the meantime, here are a few glimpses...


The game's not over yet... let's get out there today and kick those fuckers out of Congress so we can get some work done.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Joe Sorren's Evocative Pursuit

Once upon a time, about a decade ago, I came across a picture of Joe Sorren's "La Luna," and had a bit of an epiphany. It was the first painting emerging from the lowbrow movement that plucked at strings somewhere deep within me — the luminosity, spookiness, aching-yearning and deep, thrumming palette left me breathless. I've looked at that picture thousands of times since, and never tire of it. Since then, Joe has evolved his aesthetic fearlessly, exploring his passion for color and texture, and performing intuitive alchemy with his improvisational compositions. So I'm thrilled to report that in anticipation of his retrospective exhibit, "Interruption," which opens at Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana on November 6th, Joe was kind enough to do a little interview with me.

"Interruption" (detail)
"Interruption" (detail)

Erratic Phenomena: You were born in Chicago in 1970, but grew up in the drier climes of Phoenix and Flagstaff. Tell me a bit about the atmosphere of your childhood. Were you a dreamer or an adventurer? Were there moments of wonder and beauty that you look back upon now as the genesis of your vision?

Joe Sorren: Well, I grew up in the deserts outside of Phoenix, and spent most days either swimming, playing in ditches or skateboarding. As far as inspiration, from the 220 crickets we caught in one evening, to the hobbit-holes that still dent the landscape, Leigh, Jason, Vinnie —the whole slew of us — grew up in a situation that invited imagination, I think.

"Given the Difference Between 1 & 2"
"Given the Difference Between 1 & 2" (detail)
"Given the Difference Between 1 & 2" (detail)

EP: As a child, you drew incessantly. How did drawing make you feel when you were a kid?

JS: HA! I did draw on everything growing up, I couldn't help it. But it wasn't that I enjoyed drawing certain things — I remember thinking how strange it was that certain kids kept drawing cars, or monkeys, or whatever. I just enjoyed drawing what needed to be drawn for the drawing.

"Astraea" (2007)

EP: Were there books you encountered as a child that may have influenced the direction you took in life, and in your work?

JS: I loved the Frances series growing up, and Babar, and well, any sort of book that featured an animal, I suppose. Then eventually MAD came in and it was all over.

"The Mushroom Hunter"

EP: Unlike most of your contemporaries, when you begin a new painting, you try to keep yourself completely open to where the painting wants to go. You've often quoted your mother-in-law's saying, "If you lead with your hands, the mind will follow." There are no preliminary sketches, just an intuitive exploration of color, shape, composition and light that becomes more refined as the painting progresses, but maintains its fluidity throughout. When you think a painting is done, you give it some time to breathe, and revisit it only after some time has passed, to make sure it still sings. This approach, which I might liken to the way a composer would build a symphony, seems to foster a greater tendency toward evolution and risk-taking than the more staid approach of most representational painters. It also seems to relate a bit to the pattern-finding you've engaged in since childhood, when you first started inventing compositions out of random forms in stucco and wallpaper. What do you see as the advantages of letting a painting find itself?

JS: In college, the great Marshall Arisman visited my university (Northern Arizona University), and in his lecture he talked about the value, the importance, of first thought — or rather, the first incarnation of a valued thought — and I believed him. Painting is kind of like playing tag with ideas, through landscapes of idiocy.

"The Secret Collapse of Miss Lorraine"
"The Secret Collapse of Miss Lorraine" (detail)

EP: When you are finished with a painting, is it sometimes still shrouded in mystery, or have you by that time formed a strong sense of what the piece is about, even if it's not one you'd care to share with anyone else?

JS: I feel like I have learned, at least, what the questions are by the time I have finished a painting.

"In Bloom"
"In Bloom" (detail)
"In Bloom" (detail)

EP: Until 2003, you worked exclusively in acrylics. Then you began to pick up oils, with which you have discovered a heightened sense of the space between the viewer and the subject, and the light traveling through that space. Tell me a bit about the qualities that you try to depict inhabiting that space, and what emotional and aesthetic value they hold for you.

JS: It's funny, I feel like there is a "wrong" answer to this question for some reason, but I suppose what that question is getting at is,"What is in that space?," and I believe it is "God" that is in those spaces. Not God as a person, but God in a being-throughout-space-governing-but-not-really-aware-or-even-in-control-of-anything-more-like-seeing-the-beauty-of-the-universe-and-what-THAT-means, etc., sort of way.

"Anthologia" (2001)

EP: Of late, you have begun to integrate that evocative delicacy of light and atmosphere with elements rendered in a gorgeous, meaty impasto, a feat that few artists have the courage to attempt.

JS: I think Monet was great for his bravery. I think Rembrandt and Michelangelo were too, because they displayed a fearlessness in art worth witnessing. From Degas' satin to Twombly's tremors, the vital moment is why paintings matter, no matter how they are treated, don't you think? (Joe then sighs and thinks to himself, "Ahh... Turner.")

"The Luthier" (2007)

EP: Music and art have gone hand in hand throughout your life. For over two decades now, you've been close friends with fellow painter/musician Lyle Motley, with whom you have performed in the bands Creepy Lyle and The Lyle and Sparkleface Band. How has your ongoing engagement with making music influenced your evolution as a painter?

JS: The feeling of creation is similar, but one leaves a stain.

"Corrina" (2006)

EP: In 2002, you began experimenting with sculpture, and in anticipation of your next show, you have recently been working in collaboration with Jud Bergeron on a series of eight new sculptures. Tell me a bit about your relationship with Jud — an inventive sculptor in his own right.

JS: Working with Jud is like working with a rhino. The guy is non-stop go with ideas falling out all around him. I am still waiting for a conversation that doesn't end with a laugh and a kind word.

"Headlong" (with Jud Bergeron)

EP: For the past three years, you have chosen not to exhibit, outside of the occasional group show. Why did you take such a long hiatus from exhibiting?

JS: It's funny, it's a natural pattern. I showed in 1999, 2001, 2004, 2007, 2010, so I think it's in line with how it goes. For the future, Eric White and I are planning a show at the Dorothy Circus Gallery in the fall of 2011.

"Exile" (detail)
"Exile" (detail)

EP: What painter from the past moves you most powerfully, and what aspects of their work do you find most profound?

JS: I like the quiet tension found in the work of the famous Dutch painters.

"Secrets Know No Morning"

EP: If you could hang just one famous artwork from history on the wall of your studio, what would it be?

JS: Michaelanglo's "Pietà," but not on the wall.

"Tryst" (detail)
"Tryst" (detail)

Don't miss Joe Sorren's retrospective exhibit "Interruption" at Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana, which opens on November 6th. It will coincide with the release of his new book, Joe Sorren: Paintings 2004-2010. You can enjoy his earlier work in his books In Celebration of Balance and Opposable Thumbs and When She Was Camera.

"La Luna" (1998)