Los Angeles

Don Sorenson

Nicholas Wilder Gallery

Don Sorenson structures his paintings with webs of zig-zag lines set diagonally in opposition to the vertical or horizontal canvas format. This surface “drawing” has remained fairly constant for the past several years with the major variation occurring in the under-painting. This time out, the underpainting consists of broad strokes of color in gradations from warm to cool, intense to muted, light to dark, creating a shallow, indeterminate space. The overlay of lightning bolts, themselves ordered by a complex color system, results in highly vertiginous paintings.

Practically everything about Soren-son’s art can be broken down into oppositional terms. Rigid structure competes with gestural accident; pretty pastels collide with garish, aggressive color; sharp angles parade in undulating curves; metered rhythm becomes optically spasmodic. This superimpostion of orders suggests that Sorenson’s philosophy embraces a concept of “more is more.” Indeed, the paintings make reference, intentionally, to Abstract Expressionism, color field, op, Pop, hard-edge, Minimalism, and probably a few others I’ve neglected to decipher. What is remarkable about them is that Sorenson usually manages to keep the paintings from degenerating into pastiche, instead fashioning a kind of perverse poetry. The paintings are simultaneously compelling and abrasively repellent.

Sorenson’s is a decidedly mannerist sensibility. I use the term advisedly, since mannerism is too easily dismissed as an artificial conception of “style for style’s sake.” While mannerism does indeed exhibit a self-conscious attitude toward style, usually through elaborate tension and disjointed contrast, it is an attempt to reinvest a degenerate, restricted mode with a sensual vitality. It should come as no surprise that Sorenson began developing his zig-zag motif some ten years ago, when what is now generally regarded as the “Minimalist cul-de-sac” was becoming increasingly apparent and the question of what to paint had become an especially thorny problem.

Sorenson adopts an inclusive stance in which eclecticism is a virtue and disorientation the prevailing mood. It is a difficult approach to pull off and his work is admittedly uneven. (I prefer, for instance, his work from a few years ago in which thick ellipses and skewed forms wedge themselves into the fabric of the painting.) Yet I can’t help but admire an attitude toward painting that, like human existence, has its own fullness as the motivating factor; especially when it manages to avoid what could just as easily end up as the specious fullness of much so-called pattern painting.

Christopher Knight