Abstract Painting in Canada - 2007
David Sorensen (b. 1937)
by Roald Nasgaard
(Excerpt from the book, page 335)
Sorensen studied architecture with Arthur Erickson at the University of British Columbia in the mid-1950s, and after a year in Europe in 1959 – which also offered him his first real experience of American Abstract Expressionism, particularly the work of Rothko – enrolled at the Vancouver School of Art (1960-64), studying drawing and painting with Jack Shadbolt. In 1962 he visited Mexico, where he had his first solo exhibition at the Turok-Wasserman gallery in Mexico City in 1964. Attracted to the work of Quebec artists like Riopelle and Armand Vaillancourt, he made his way to Montreal, which has been his base ever since, teaching in the Fine Arts program at Bishop’s University (1981-2000).
Sorensen’s painting emerged only in the early 1980s, but he remained surprisingly guilt-free about carrying on modernist painting, reaching back to the 1970s and even back to the early 1960s to carry on the tradition of Abstract Expressionism. Before turning to abstract painting, Sorensen had worked predominantly as a sculptor, a practice he did not entirely abandon.
The Corner Series, 1983-84, which he showed at the Theo Waddington Gallery in Montreal in 1984, echoes the geometric end of the Post-Painterly spectrum of the 1960s. The paint is applied lightly and with a softness of touch, using a palette of muted pastels, but the geometry is aligned with the frame and the shapes flat. In the early 1990s, there are echoes of Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park paintings, with comparable geometric divisions, similar pale palette, echoes of Matisse, drenched in the light and atmosphere of nature, as if something of the west coast still lingers, so that we are not surprised to learn that he grew up in West Vancouver with a Gordon Smith painting in his bedroom. Similarly, the bars and stripes of his paintings from Cuba, such as Havana #5, 1999 (PC), put us in mind of Sean Scully’s stripes and grids. Such affinities reflect moments of sympathetic response to the deep history of abstract practice, within which Sorensen for over two decades had pursued his rich and varied bodies of work, always in the language of space, colour, and formal precision, pervaded with an atmosphere of place. Since the Corner Series, the lattice of the grid has held firm, and Sorensen’s spatula-worked paint has grown thicker, the colour more heated, the surface textures altogether more completely layered and more deeply embedded with sensations and emotional expressiveness.
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