The objects made by Barbara Sorensen are composed of a material associated uniquely with crafts – clay. However her objects were never intended to hold water or wine, or support a building. They were made for the reason art is made: to question, to surprise, to celebrated and to assert.
Some of the objects serve two worlds. The can be seen as art objects and also works of earthen material. The historical references of chalices and Pandora’s boxes are clothed in rich, textural clay loaded with bits of rock. The density of the clay also counterbalances the undulating movement and swirl of its plasticity. The dichotomy intrigues the viewer. There is a reminder of spiritual energy, or possibly references to the ritual presence of tribal societies, in the totemic shape of the pieces.
Taken together, Sorensen’s work is an aesthetic tour de force and an inquiry into the nature of art, the nature of object, and the relationship between the two. Looking at her pieces, it is immediately obvious that there is a duality inherent in her vessels: historical/modern, eastern/western, environmental/sculptural. These objects speak eloquently of the changes in society in the 21st century: changes in global vision, changes in global concerns, changes in available resources and technology.
Clay is a material that usually implies weight, mass and utility. In the hands of Barbara Sorensen clay becomes a material of metamorphosis and metaphor. Her Chalices, with an almost biblical reference, are rough honed, bulging with the push of the earth itself. But look closer – the delicate balance of the stem defies the weight it carries. The silent secret of the piece is noticed only when one peers inside the vessel. The treasure, gold leaf, is lavished on the inner surface. Sorensen embraces the eastern aesthetic of hiding the treasure from public consumption.
The Caryatide series is an obvious reference to the ancient statuary of goddesses employed to support the weight of a building. Sorensen’s Caryatides stand-alone; they swirl in position; they suggest the human form albeit in weightlessness.
If the Caryatides invoke a feeling of the past, her Shield series is timeless. A shield is an age-old protection and also an emblem – a trophy. Her Shields are encrusted wall pieces that are rich with embedded rock particles, strong in material, and yes, worthy of a king. Her inspiration came in Spain where she first spotted unusual shield-like entrances to houses, reminiscent of the 17th century “entradas” of homes in the region. To enhance the ageless effect in her series, she picked up and saved rocks, small monoliths, along the way that met her fancy. These rocks would form the rich surface of each Shield.
She was in the habit of noticing rock fragments wherever she went. For some these monoliths are detritus, for Sorensen they are treasure. She admits that the natural environment militates her work. No one would question that statement realizing that, besides travel, a good part of her year is spent hiking in the craggy mountains of Colorado. She builds her life around the accoutrements of nature.
Her most recent pieces, Maidens, combine all the best of her work. First the size impresses. These statuesque forms are life-size. There is also a suggestion of contrapposto, the sinuous twisting initiated by Praxiteles in the 5th century BC, and all the inherent energy implied by the counterbalance. There is a suggestion of eruption in the clay, her trademark reference to shifting plates of the earth’s interior. She has not forgotten the Maidens’ surface. It too is embedded with rough jewels and actual rocks, that once fired become a textural treasure.
There is much to embrace and admire in Barbara Sorensen’s works. They speak of ancient times and lost cultures. They remind the viewer that our real treasure is surely Mother Earth itself. She suggests the energy and vitality of the abstraction of Peter Voulkos, the expressiveness of Don Reitz while including the simplicity of Paul Soldner, all advisors and friends. More importantly, her works combine the best of fine art with the endurance of clay. Her works look like they have been here since time immemorial. Certainly, they will be appreciated for years to come.
Jan Clanton, Associate Curator Orlando Museum of Art