"I’ve always resonated with these ideas of taking a complex image or scene and dissecting it into a simpler version of itself. Using blocks of colours that are bold, punchy, and fun! Life is already difficult, I think my art should be simple."
Canadian artist Kyle Sorensen is best known for his rich portrayal of landscapes through the lens of geometric abstraction. Drawing from the Cubists, as well as the language of hard edge painting, Sorensen’s fractured acrylic landscapes pose a fresh approach to a traditional genre. Inspired by the vast beauty of Northern Ontario and the waters of Georgian Bay, his work focuses on reducing these three-dimensional landmasses to their simplest two-dimensional form, rendered in bold colours with razor sharp transitions. Working with acrylics and Canadian Birch panels Sorensen paints fragmented memories of the places he once visited. The end result leaves the viewer with a familiar feeling; like they’ve been there before.
INTERVIEW WITH THE ARTIST
Q. Was there a pivotal moment in your life or career that led you to become an artist?
A. I had been drawn to the arts from a very young age; always interested in creating things with my own hands. Throughout school, I always found joy in the creative arts and exceeded in finding my unique style during my time at university, where I studied Fine Art. After completing my Bachelor of Fine Art in 2014, I began work at a corporate job where I found little joy, and zero creativity. When the pandemic began, I was laid off from my job and I began thinking of what I truly wanted to do with myself, and I knew that painting was one of those things that I never grew tired of, and one of those things that I truly enjoyed. It was then that I decided “why not!?” Why not give it a try and see where things went? I figured the only way to see if something will work is to fully commit yourself to it, and to have trust in the fact that things will play out the way they are supposed to. Now, looking back, I can say without hesitation that being an artist is undoubtedly the career path I was intended to pursue!
Savage Shores, 2022
Acrylic on Birch
Q. Your work reminds of that of the Cubist and the hard-edge movement. What drew you to this style of painting and how have these traditions impacted your work?
A. My work and practice definitely shares in the ideologies of Cubists and Hard Edge painters. Cubism was prevalent in the early 1900’s and was all about taking an object, breaking it down into simpler forms, and reassembling it to make a more straightforward image. My work shares this philosophy, as I am constantly finding landscapes and reducing them to more simple abstracted fragments.
Hard edge painting on the other hand, was a movement of art in the 1960’s that was characterized by areas of flat colour with sharp, or “hard”, transitions. Although most artwork produced during this time was limited to a few shapes and colour fields, the process of making art with bold blocks of colour and crisp lines has now become something I am well known for in my own craft. I’ve always resonated with these ideas of taking a complex image or scene and dissecting it into a simpler version of itself. Using blocks of colours that are bold, punchy, and fun! Life is already difficult, I think my art should be simple.
Burnt Island Tickle, 2022
Acrylic on Birch
Q. How did you come to gravitate to landscapes, devoid of people, as your main subject matter?
A. When I began painting in my style at university, I avoided representation altogether. I focused on creating abstract geometric forms that mimicked the complex urban layout of metropolitan spaces. These forms were representations of how I felt being surrounded by busy streets, masses of people, and dense habitations. After spending just under a decade exploring these ideas, I felt a shift happening in my work, as well as my personal mindset. Finishing university and spending more time in a northern community away from the city allowed me to focus on a whole new environment that was full of open bodies of water, fresh air, and endless natural beauty. It was at this time that I found myself sketching new ideas that resembled the landscapes I was immersed in. It was at this time that I began to realize that creating landscapes instead of non-representational forms was becoming more in keeping with my newfound solace, away from the downtown core. A new sense of peace was found in exploring landscapes, and my art began to reflect this shift.
Q. What are some of your personal favourite places and what do you love about them?
A. I spend most of my days in my little studio on the shores of Georgian Bay in Parry Sound in Northern Ontario. It is quite honestly my favourite place, especially in the Summer months. I love the warm light, crashing waves, and towering pine trees. Just thinking of this area brings a smile to my face. Naturally, this area of Georgian Bay is one of my favourites to paint as well.
Sisters Island, 2022
Acrylic on Birch
Q. Could you tell us a bit about your process? How do you go about reducing and translating three dimensional space to two dimensional shapes?
A. My process begins with a simple image. It could be a photograph I’ve personally taken during my explorations, or an image that someone has passed along to me. Either way, I look to find the key shapes of the scene that are integral to capturing its essence. Perhaps it's the way the clouds cover the sky in the photo, or maybe the way a tall pine tree sways in the wind. I focus on minimizing the complexity of these elements to reduce them to a simpler form.
Q. What would you like to convey with your vibrant colour palette?
A. I don’t often play with subdued colours -
I like to commit to rich and highly pigmented colours in my work. They are often the same colours you find in nature…just punched up a little bit! Vibrancy equals light to me.
I choose to focus a lot of my work on bright summer days, and to me vibrancy plays well with these scenes. I also admit that I don’t usually create work to feel dark, or moody. I like to focus on the good, and the bright, and the uplifting.
Acrylic on Birch
Q. How do you capture the intangible elements of a place - the atmosphere, the smells, the emotions a place evokes?
A. I believe that colour itself does a lot of this legwork for me. There is so much reading that can be done on the effects of colour on the brain. In the animal kingdom, colour can signify the difference between something that is poisonous and something that is edible. Something that is bright red or orange will typically signify danger, or toxicity. I tend to believe that these types of colours can make humans feel the same way.
The colour blue is a great example; a bright aqua blue will typically make us think of tropical water, or clear skies. Tropical water, and clear skies remind us of warm weather. This can spur further reminders and memories all related to colour. For that reason, I love playing with colour in my work in attempts to evoke these sensory experiences.
Q. Which other creatives do you admire?
A. I find myself drawn to other creatives that go about their craft very differently than I do.
CJ Hendry is a very well-known artist that creates hyperrealist drawings that are absolutely stunning. She produces work that mimics photography, and her commitment to her interactive exhibitions is out of this world. I consider myself lucky enough to own one of her editions, which was gifted to me by an extremely thoughtful friend. I will also always be obsessed with the art of Norval Morriseau; an Indiginous Canadian Artist who was active from the 1960’s onwards until his death in 2007. He, and his work, are both inspiring. I furthermore love the photographic work of George Byrne. I could look at it for days without ever growing tired!
Sailors Delight, 2022
Acrylic on Birch
Q. How has practicing art impacted your life?
A. Creating art for a living has made me a more present person. When I worked a corporate job, life seemed to slip by; each day just like the other…another cog in the machine. Now, I still find that my days are never long enough, but I enjoy what I’m doing. I want to make work, and I want to fill my day with painting, instead of counting down the hours until my shift ends. It’s given me the opportunity to enjoy my surroundings, and my loved ones, and my experiences, and in return create art that brings joy to others.
Sundown over Huckleberry, 2022
Acrylic on Birch
Q. Have you had any surprising responses to your work?
A. I’ve had several people refer to my work as a Cubist’s approach to the Group of Seven. It is of course a surprising and flattering compliment that I graciously accept!
Q. Could you describe your work in three words?
A. Fresh - Bold - Abstract