An Interview with Joe Sorren

by Matt HoldawayPosted on


Joe Sorren’s boldly dreamywork has defined and defied conceptualist low-brow to create a style uniquelyhis own. This Arizonan-via-Chicago artist pickedup the brush in 1991 and since then hiswork has been featured in publications such as Rolling Stone, The New Yorker andThe Los Angeles Times, has won multiple awards and has appeared on two“Tweakers” album covers. He is currentlypreparing for his latest museum solo show, which includes the debut of a large numberof paintings, his collaborative sculpture series with Jud Bergeron(which we debuted on HF here) and the release of his third book. Joewas kind enough to take a brief moment to talk with HF correspondent Matt Holdaway about his works.

I’ve spent some timecamping in the beautiful Flagstaffarea and when I found out you were from there I realized that many of thenatural colors of the high mountains and the massive horizons are representedin your work.  Am I inferring too much or was this a conscious choiceon your part?

For years I pretended ourforests were wetter and richer in color than they are. Over the years however,I have learned to love Flagstaff’sforests on its own terms.  



I was reading your blogand saw a picture your daughter had drawn with chalk.  I am positivefatherhood has to have been a major influence on your work but what has beenthe influence of your progeny’s actual work been on your approach to paintingand sculpting?

Oh, I steal from her allthe time. It’s a grand-larceny festival over here! The best is that she doesn’tknow about computers yet, so I can probably pull off this theft thing for a fewmore years before I’m caught.  Actually, I’m kidding. She is in collegenow, studying to be a journalist at PrattUniversity in New York, and I am pretty sure she has heardof computers over there, but my son…


You recently participatedin an Italian Pop Surrealism Group Show in Spoleto, Italy.How did it go? How do you feel your European audience differs from here?

 From what I could gatherit went well. i was unable to attend, as I have been finishing up a group ofwork for my show this November.

“Pinkmu on the Wind M’am”


Between painting,sculpting, exhibiting and preparing for your book you somehow also find thetime to make some noise.  Is there somewhere online where people canhear your Bluegrass music? Do you have anylive events planned for your music?

 We have a myspace pagethat might have music up, I am not sure as it has been a while since I was overthere. But, we play every second and fourth Tuesday at the Wine Loft in Flagstaff. So if yourdriving through, come by and say hi. (myspace/voluntarystringband)


I recently had a chanceto travel to the Netherlandsand finally see the work of some of their masters.  There were twobig surprises for me there.  The first was the scale they workedon.  The second was how utterly picturesque the landscape isthere.  I know you have expressed an influence of these craftsmen andwas wondering if you had traveled there to walk in their footsteps?  

 I never have been there,but hope to go ‘painting-hunting’ this summer. Basically what you do is pick apainting you have always wanted to see, and then travel to where it lives.Hopefully this will lead to zig-zagging all over Europe.


“In Bloom”

You have created a largeamount of work for this solo show and I know this almost like asking a parentto pick a favorite but is there a piece you are most excited to debut at yoursolo show “Interruption” on November 6th at the Grand Central ArtCenter in Santa Ana, California?  

I am really lookingforward to seeing the paintings from the last 6 years together again as awhole. The thought of it is overwhelming actually.


The actual painting“Interruption” is haunting.  Seeing the progress and process that youdisplayed online is fascinating.  Would you be willing to discusssome of the personal meanings this work has to you?

It’s funny, it’s abalancing act, because, for me, so much of painting is setting up questions forthe viewer. Questions that the viewer may not even know they are being askeduntil 6 months into living with the piece, or however long it takes for thatsort of connection to happen. I guess what I am getting at is, I feeldiscussing those individual thematic elements of a piece is, ironically,depersonalizing to the work in the long run.

“Given the Difference Between 1 & 2”


Your sculpture with JudBergeron “Headlong” is so relatable.  Would you please tell me aboutthe process on how this came about?

 Working with Jud on thesenew sculptures was great and I’m happy we agreed to have each piece beone-of-a-kind, because the energy of the actual pieces doesn’t feel like itcould be replicated. Headlong started as a sort of boxer sculpture, which Iworked up to near completion, then sent it to Jud. Later, at his studio, wewere further developing it, when it shifted into a more spiraling balancing actsort of feel. 


The affinity of thecharacters in “At the Tate” is palatable.  As this was acollaborative piece would you please describe the shared progression in itscreation?

Sure. Last summer whenJud and I were conceptualizing starting points for the show, we were working inwax and ceramic, just playing with form and seeing what developed. I hadsculpted those two figures in wax, enjoying the gnarliness of the medium. Iliked how the two people felt so beat-up, and at the same time, so excited tobe together; so in love. Jud later added the context through his beautiful woodsculpture. I felt like it was just right; the polish and grace in form of his’sculpture’ within the piece seemed to play perfectly off the organic qualityof the figures.

You will be releasing“Joe Sorren – Paintings / Sculptures” by Gingko Press at your upcoming soloshow “Interruption” in Santa Ana, California inNovember.  What can readers look forward to seeing in your book?

The book covers work forthe last 6 years, since I switched to oils, focusing on multiple full-spreaddetail shots. It’s so difficult showing the nuance of painting through a jpg. Iam glad the work here has a chance to breathe and be explored on a biggerscale.



You can meet up with Joe athis upcoming Solo show “Interruption” A retrospective of work form 2004 to 2010by Joe Sorren and Collaborative Sculpture by Jud Bergeron and Sorren at TheGrand Central Arts Center in Santa Ana, California on November 6th. His third book “Joe Sorren – Paintings 2004to 2010” from Ginko Press will be released at this show.

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