| Art

Enchanted Visions

A review of Joe Sorren – Between the Wrinkles at Dorothy Circus Gallery, London 

Joe Sorren, Morning has broken, 2023

In the vast landscape of contemporary art, artists who venture into the territory of fairy-tale imagery and fantasy worlds often find themselves sailing against the tide. Common perception might relegate such works to the realm of the “merely decorative” or, even worse, to the arena of “unserious” art.

A prime example of this prejudice can be traced in the story of artist Margaret Tarrant, whose works laden with fantastic and fairy-tale elements were long underestimated by academic critics. However, the case of Joe Sorren offers a contrasting narrative. Since the early days of his artistic career, Sorren has captured the attention of critics and audiences alike, demonstrating that his creative approach, though rooted in a fairy-tale world, possesses a depth and relevance far beyond mere ornamentation. With his pictorial mastery and unique worldview, Sorren has created an artistic universe that enchants and captivates audiences worldwide.

Immersed in cartoonish characters, vivid colours and a quick brushstroke, Sorren enchants with his engaging pop-surrealist painting in his latest exhibition, Between the Wrinkles at the Dorothy Circus Gallery in London. In this exhibition, in which reality intertwines with imagination in unexpected and fascinating ways, the pop-surrealist component gives rise to works such as Morning has Broken (2024) in which a sense of wonder and mystery emerges through the personification of the figures of the sun and moon, here depicted dancing in the folds of the wind. 

Portrait of Betty Varoom, 2023
Portrait of Betty Varoom, 2023

The unique poetics of this artist, capable of transporting any viewer into a dreamy setting that evokes fairy tales through intricate compositions rich in the juxtaposition of vibrant and muted hues, invites one to plunge into the depths of imagination through a journey that challenges perception and reality. 

Emerging in the contemporary context around the early 2000s, after winning a gold medal from the Society of Illustrators in New York and a silver medal from the Society of Illustrators in Los Angeles, Sorren soon established himself in the American cultural and art scene. After his formative years that took place between Florence and Barcelona, he returned to the United States where, thanks to his collaboration with prestigious publications including: The New Yorker, Time and Rolling Stone he became one of the major prime movers of Pop Surrealism. His works have been exhibited in prestigious galleries and museums worldwide (such as Bristol City Museum and Museum of Visual Arts Palazzo Collicola), earning him a prominent place in the contemporary art scene. 

Sorren as a pop-surrealist artist mixes elements of classical surrealism with those of pop culture. While classical surrealism focuses on depicting fantastic and unreal subjects to explore the unconscious and the depths of the human psyche, pop surrealism approaches a more accessible and playful representation of reality, often incorporating elements of mass culture. In the exhibition context, the distinctive nature of pop-surrealism emerges more clearly, creating a harmonious juxtaposition in the exhibition space. Indeed, Sorren’s works exude vibrant pop energy through eye-catching colours, eccentric characters and surreal narratives that capture the viewer’s imagination, creating works that are not only aesthetically interesting but also accessible to a wide audience.

Building on an Age of Love theme, Sorren’s new exhibition offers a journey through emotions and intense life experiences. The figures in these works, characterised by subtle lines that fade into the contours, emerge from a dreamlike world and bucolic atmospheres, inviting the viewer to reflect not only on their feelings but also on their relationship with the world around them. 

Sorren explains, “It’s like every piece presents a different set of questions, and as I work through the layers, it’s just about really asking what the piece needs to create movement and texture in design and hopefully consideration in the narrative.” This approach is showcased by the narrative capacity of the work Portrait of Betty Varoom (2023), in which the subject’s direct gaze toward the viewer adds such contemplative depth that it invites viewers to investigate the depth of the subject’s inner thoughts and emotions. 

Joe Sorren, Portrait of Betty Varoom, 76 x 76 cm, Oil on Canvas
Portrait of Betty Varoom, 2023

This exhibition is the perfect introduction for those new to Sorren’s work. The artist’s new style shows through a new manner and gravitas, a more mature and introspective focus, with a sense of seriousness not seen in their earlier work. They use a visual language that blends Impressionist and contemporary art references to create an interlude. One example is That Ol’ Chestnut, which portrays mysterious creatures with large faces, displaying emotions ranging from melancholy to joy. Thus, the artist uses a romantic style, with a symphony of colours, fine lines, and ripples that flow through the picture space, giving the everyday subject a new and elevated perspective.

Joe Sorren, Morning has broken, 2023
Morning has broken, 2023

Some might need clarification about the conceptual depth of his works, leading to associating his work with categories such as kitsch. Indeed, if an apparent simplicity dominates his narratives, his inclination toward fantastical representation in conjunction with bright colours could be misinterpreted. However, Sorren demonstrates a mastery of balancing the playful with the contemplative, and in Between the Wrinkles, this fine line between the two tendencies allows the artist to rise above the simple category of kitsch. His ability to create fantastical worlds is not trivial but reveals a deep understanding of human complexity and inner struggles. His paintings offer a mirror to the real world and its visceral issues, providing a space that harkens back to the safety of childhood, in which to explore themes such as isolation, the search for meaning and human interconnectedness.

Through his works, Sorren invites viewers to reflect on their everyday experiences and find solace in the imagination and beauty of the world he creates. In this way, his work transcends simple aesthetics to become a statement about the most intimate and hidden human condition. 

Between the Wrinkles is an invitation to explore the world through Sorren’s eyes, to immerse oneself in his creations and discover what lies behind the folds of reality. 

Between the Wrinkles runs from 9 March – 6 April 2024 at Dorothy Circus Gallery, 35 Connaught Street, W2 2AZ, London. 

All images: Courtesy of DCG and the Artist.


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