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)


Aleks said...

What? No comments at all???
I love how you make your posts,I love this one very much,thank you for sharing! Wow,what a beauty!! Greetings from Holland and from me!

Dani III said...

Great interview though I would have loved Joe to talk more! ;)


Nice interview but I would have loved to hear his process. Thank you!!