Arts Canada Magazine – 1976
Galerie Gilles Corbeil
by Sarah McCutcheon
To date, David Sorensen sees his work very consciously in terms of painted series or investigations, each of which concerns itself with a particular formal aspect of painting. These investigations are intimately related to the late Abstract Expressionist Mark Rothko, whose concept of art was based on the idea, “the aspiration toward an aesthetic essence …by calculating what was irreducible in painting.” (See Harold Rosenberg, The De-definition of Art).
In the recent exhibition at Galerie Gilles Corbeil there were three series of paintings exhibited, collectively spanning several years. The earliest consists of Mexico paintings, completed prior to 1974 and exhibited that year in Espace Cinq in Montreal and AARP Gallery in Paris. The second series, the Milan paintings, done in Montreal after a visit to Italy, were exhibited at Milione Gallery in Milan. And the third series, the dominant paintings in the exhibition, is his most recent work, completed over this past summer and fall in the Eastern Townships.
To fully experience these recent paintings it is helpful to follow David Sorensen’s development through the Mexico and Milan paintings.
The Mexico paintings concentrate on form: using layers of boldly painted lines (usually horizontal and often broken or rough) and super-imposed soft-edge blocks of color to create simultaneously both built-up blocks of form (consisting of numerous lines) and suspended blocks of colored areas which are interrupted by the lines. In this series he makes strong use of color - mainly tones of peach, turquoise and green.
The next series, the Milan paintings, are by contrast very sparse. In moving away from color and lines as he was using them, Sorensen directs his interest to surface quality, often using rollers to apply colors evenly, yet allowing the edges a sensitive texture. He also employs techniques of the Paris “surface support” school, often cutting up the canvas and piecing it back together, and using in other works a “tilt” theme (which happens again very strongly in his new paintings) to break the surface. In these Milan works, he uses sparse pale white, beige and grey-flat surfaces with no illusion of depth. Double Square (1975), a stunningly aesthetic work (if these words can do it enough justice), is a diptych of an extraordinary beige color on raw canvas. One panel is the negative of the other and both are roller painted to obtain a flat density of paint. The mirror-image shape is a tilted rectangle outlined against the surface background.
The transition to this series from the Mexico work is seen in the painting Uno (1975). Here a pale orange panel is over- painted on a lighter orange surface, leaving an edge around it against raw canvas. A thin floating line is painted across the panel causing it to recede.
David Sorensen’s newest paintings have the extraordinary ambiguity of appearing “simple” and pure, yet extremely complex. To this writer it seems that he has become almost obsessively interested in light—in depicting light and atmospheric light-planes with great subtlety of color, texture and form. His technique is innovative, resembling those of printmaking, particularly silk-screening. The process is complex and results in from four to twenty layers of paint in the finished work. The colors start off very pale in the first painting and strengthen progressively from one painting to the next.
Sorensen has a thorough knowledge of such painters of light as Monet and Turner (whose works he rediscovered recently in London) and in particular their techniques of depicting light.
One can see in the various stages of his own work, as he adds each layer of color and retransforms his work, hints of the expression of other painters such as Mark Rothko, Jasper Johns, Jackson Pollock, Jean- Paul Riopelle and Jean McEwen.
Yet he tries to keep going beyond, in some cases by adding layer upon layer of paint. There are in his recent works affiliations with these painters, especially with Jean McEwen, although not superficially. Sorensen adds Liquitex to his paint to lighten the effect of the cumulative layers so that you can see through them. He has created a surface which has on one level an intricate textural effect,
resembling, perhaps, a blow -up of the brushwork of a Turner sky.
Sorensen describes what he is doing now as “bringing together current interests (post minimal, post conceptual) with spontaneous application.” This is restrained in some, such as Durazno (peach) and approaches ”drawing with paint” in later ones such as Dervish. These very graphic qualities come out strongly in Violet Theme, which has only four layers of color, three shades of violet and an Indian red, which move freely across the canvas. These are indeed, despite the almost print-like technique, very painterly paintings. It takes time to look at David Sorensen’s paintings. They speak softly, but with great strength.
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