This area has been reserved as a place where friends, acquaintances and colleagues of Don Sorenson are encouraged to pay their respects, post their recollections and offer any tributes they may want to share. If you have something say regarding this truly unique artist, please submit your writing to:

Mike Sorenson
(the artist's brother
and curator of this site):


"He often attended my theoretical and Brave Dog events, usually with a small entourage of fellow artists who had not been aware of this early 1980's underground art and music scene in the industrial bowels of Downtown Los Angeles. Always charming, graceful and handsome, he died of AIDS in 1985 just at the beginning of a meteoric career, having produced an awesome series of paintings in several distinct idioms. His canvases were huge and all encompassing: vast electrified environments.

We had several good friends in common, but I eventually came to know Don apart from them and was privileged to work for a brief time as an assistant in his wonderful Pasadena studio. (I think the space is inhabited by Crate & Barrel today.) I got to untape the masking tape used on some of the layers of those famous zig-zag canvases and helped assemble some experimental sculptural construction/experiments that never met with Don's complete satisfaction and were eventually destroyed.

He left his mark on the world of art and his paintings will live on to infinitely brighten every space in which they reside.

—Jack Marquette

written June, 1997 and revised August, 2003


currently available work

pre 1974




from the catalog of the 20th Anniversary of the Fine Arts Gallery, University of California, Irvine show catalog
In Memory of Don Sorenson, 1948-85:
A Selection of Painting, Drawings and Sculpture

shown May 8-31, 1986

by Melinda Wortz

Don Sorenson, who completed graduate school in 1973, taught painting as a visiting artist at UCI in 1980 and 1981. Modernist rhetoric was losing favor and with it abstract painting. In spite of art school pressures toward narrative, conceptual and installation art forms, filtered westward from the New York press, Sorensen remained firmly committed to painting In his very literate graduate thesis written in 1973 in defense of painting, Sorenson stated

What is needed now is a new structure— one that goes beyond the ninety degree, vertical and horizontal grid. Our modernist epic is drawing to a close, another structure is being formed, and it appears we are on the threshold of the new.

Sorenson was referring here to ideas outlined in George Kubler's book, The Shape of Time. The young artist's search for a contributively viable vocabulary for painting has from the beginning incorporated the structural format of Modernism— a grid structure and geometric form— only to be subverted by gestural layering, splattering and idiosyncratic coloration. With this painterly style Sorenson deliberately creates spatial illusions that are antithetical to the modernist dictum of truth to the flatness of the picture plane. It is important for understanding his work to know the two basic parameters— form and content— which inform his pursuit of a new structure.

Formally, the paintings are amalgams of the polar opposites with which large stylistic swings in the history of art have been described: intellect and emotion, order and randomness, control and accident, structure and chaos, straight line and amorphous color, gloss and matte, literal flatness and illusionistic depth, figure and ground and so forth. It is through a synthesis of art history that Sorenson finds his unique place in the world of contemporary art.

With regard to content, Sorenson involves himself with painting because of its potential for spiritual metaphor. In this regard he recalls Agnes Martin's lecture at the Pasadena Museum in the early 1970's as a pivotal influence, together with his art historical study of writings by 20th century painters like Kandinsky, Mal evich and Mondrian.

Raised in a strict Lutheran family, Sorenson had experienced ecstatic religious visions when he was a student and more recently when practicing Zen meditation. "If I weren't an artist I would probably be a monk," he says. However, having opted to "stay in the world," he found in painting an ecstatic and visionary activity which which hinted at, but was different from, his other spiritual experiences.

By the 1980s, shadowy, nearly subliminal figures began to hover behind Sorenson's complexly interwoven zig-zag compositions. At first the new configurations were geometric shapes— spirals, parallelograms and the like. But soon the artist began making references to his favorite periods in art history, beginning with a painting in homage to Matisse's Moroccans. His next move was back in time to ancient Greek gods and goddesses— Apollo, Jupiter, Nike and Venus, for example. These figures quickly asserted themselves in the foreground, relegating the abstract zig-zag patterns to symbolic background elements, enframed by shaped canvas in the form of Greek temples, with a pediment and two columns built in to their framing structures. Thus in this series of paintings, the Greek iconography enabled the artist to integrate both his interest in geometry and the human figure.

Sorenson's new interest in figuration coincided with a similar mood in the art world at large. In his work of this period, the surfaces became more thickly impastoed than ever before, and the colors more intense. After 1982 Sorenson's paintings contained more abstract and anxious figures. Grouping such as that found in The Board Room incorporated in their frenetic composition the emotional intensity and fierce competition that not only characterizes corporate structure, but also mirrors the larger cultural climate of late Capitalism. The Operation, 1983, testified powerfully to the artist's intense personal anxiety regarding his illness.

The 1985 series of sepia paintings contained extremely abstracted figures crowded into Bacchanalian scenes around heavily laden tables. With titles like Fate, Seduction, Power and Rape, this series evoked both Picasso's grotesquely bulbous female figure on the beach from the late 1920s and Hogarth's moral allegories on the themes of virtues and vices in the eighteenth century from The Rake's Progress. These dense compositions of Sorenson's were impressive in their mastery of a new vocabulary and powerful in their commentaries on frightful and destructive actions that can occur when a positive human emotion such as love, for example, is exaggerated into the vice, lust. A series of painted masks in the form of wall reliefs were three-dimensional counterparts to the imagery in the sepia paintings.

The number of stylistic changes Sorenson was willing to risk in the course of his tragically short career contain the evidence of an extraordinarily prolific and creative aesthetic life. And the work provides an eloquent record of his profound aesthetic commitment.

If you have something say regarding this truly unique artist,
please submit your writing to:
Mike Sorenson
(the artist's brother and curator of this site):

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