New Paintings: Adam Sorensen, 2015

[Originally published in a catalog of the artist’s work for PDX Contemporary Art, Portland, OR]

It’s an easy thing to draw lines of influence. Constant inundation by images from the past and present have made us all experts on visual connections we are unable to parse or articulate. Over the past eight years, Adam Sorensen has established a process-heavy mode of working that flits between direct allusion and a more personal abstraction. “The references just show up and surprise me,” he quips as we stand in his studio surrounded by canvases pulsing with color. He points to one painting with blooming, stalk-like forms that are reminiscent of some of his earlier botanical works. Laughing, he recounts how he realized one day that these structures were more like the possessed shrimp cocktail from Beetlejuice than anything natural.

One little joke or hidden conceit always breaks the intensity in Sorensen’s compositions. It is these subtle details that his body of work for New Paintings centers upon. Instead of focusing on the big picture, on the overwhelming depth of older works like Flusskeller (2010) or the art historical references like those in Déjeuner (2010), these pieces tone it back and bring the composition forward so that one might catch the subtleties more easily. Works like Frosted Tips (2015) are all black, white and phthalo blue, but there is a distinct shimmer of multicolor mist in the titular tips. Sorensen’s paintings are made to be viewed up close as well as from a distance. Romantic skies hover perplexedly above graphic, alien landscapes, creating a bold and striking scene. But they are also inviting and familiar, making the audience search for reference or lose themselves in the details.

Adam Sorensen, Frosted Tips, 2015

“This is the language I’m working with,” he says, “I can’t let myself paint an abstract painting anymore. It all has to be filtered through this landscape.” For all the grandeur and glow and pop sensibilities present in his works, Sorensen is a surprisingly methodical and traditional painter. There are literal layers in his pieces. Using materials like oil and wax and linen, he creates scenes that many might perceive from afar as acrylic or digital. This underlying homage to the history of painting is something worth noting. It is slow, time-based work that hearkens back to an age when paint took months to dry and artists worked tirelessly in their studios making base layers to construct their scenes upon.

Adam Sorensen, Peach, 2015

But for all this talk of layers and time and media-specific processes, the works in New Paintings build upon the lyrical aspects of previous pieces to produce a new conversation and a new way for the artist to grow within the confines of his visual language. Stylized rocky forms beckon to their shimmering reflections in impossibly still pools. Sorensen’s signature gradient mounds confront illusionism in works like Peach (2015), while the whirling mist in Envelope (2015) is more in line with the expressive tendencies of the Hudson River School. Sorensen’s practice is rigorous. It is not impulsive and carefree. Compositions are plotted and strata constructed, but there is gesture in the forms; the stillness masks a molten core surging underneath.

Adam Sorensen, Envelope, 2015

New Paintings marks a progression in the artist’s steady evolution. Each new chapter further explores his visual language and pushes the elements until they reveal their inner workings. In one exhibition the branches emerge from the lake; in the next, they blossom. By simplifying the composition, controlling the palette and condensing the focus, Sorensen’s new works take on the guise of magnified miniatures. Intense detail is expanded and the artist hands us a key to his canvases. But, like an ever-expanding fractal, there is always something smaller lurking on the edge of these paintings. Horizons come into focus and the silver surfaces of Sorensen’s depths set our eyes reeling in a continuous journey inward.