New York

Bjarne Werner Sørensen

If the work of the Danish painter Bjarne Werner Sørensen, steeped in formalist painting traditions, appears to pay homage to the likes of Brice Marden and Per Kirkeby, the ambitious Spring till Fall, Faroes, 1996, makes it clear that the painter is after something other than an engagement with art history. This large work consists of 700 photographs—35-millimeter snapshots, really—methodically arranged in rows depicting events, people, and sites in the Faeroe Islands, and, as the title indicates, spanning three seasons. Sørensen spent a good part of his formative years shuttling back and forth between these islands (an extremely rugged and beautiful outpost of Danish settlement in the Atlantic Ocean between Iceland and Norway) and Copenhagen, and has made the country-city duality of this aspect of his life a defining motif of his art.

This photo-collage piece, which was unique in the exhibition (comprising mainly paintings and monoprints), brought in a more objective reality as a framework for considering Sorensen’s abstract imagery. Similarly, “Seachange,” a word that served as the title of both a 1995 painting and the exhibition as a whole, points up the contrast in mood between the turbulent canvases, with their vivid, contrasting colors and patchy brushwork, and the more serene monoprints, with their looping, calligraphic line, their palette of muted earth tones, and generous white space. Taken together, the two groups of works reveal Sørensen’s interest in the whole picture of nature, a breadth he demonstrates both in the places he depicts and in the emotional content of his depictions.

Some of the works, like the large painting Navigator, 1997, and some of the prints, are almost cartographic views of land and sea imprinted with a variety of natural phenomena, such as patchy clouds and craggy peaks. In other paintings, like Pangea, 1997, and Nerve Net, 1997, the tangled webs of lines and convoluted planes that cover the canvas represent inner forces of nature that are only partially revealed in the observable landscape. The range of compositions found in Praxis (variations), 1996, an installation of twenty monoprints, underscores Sørensen’s talent for system and arrangement.

Sørensen has tapped into the mysterious energy of abstraction in his engagement with the Faroese landscape. Stressing movement and contrast, the gesturally applied colors and forms make for energetic compositions that are not only visually pleasing but imaginatively appealing.

Ronny Cohen