Landscape painter Adam Sorenson blends 19th-century romanticism, Japanese woodblock prints, and abstract expressionism to create a wholly unique approach to his imagined landscapes that burst with luminous, imaginative eccentricities. He lives and works in Portland, OR, and shows extensively around the Pacific Northwest. In our conversation, we talk about nature’s grandeur, studio rituals, and the spirituality of painting.
Your work has been described as both utopian and post-apocalyptic, but I see it as entirely other-worldly, like landing on a distant planet or walking through a lucid dream. To what degree do you anchor yourself in reality when painting?
My starting point was always imagery rather than the actual landscape; art history and pop culture like comic books and music. Since then, it’s become entirely its own world aesthetically. The real world seeps in, however, usually as examples of the distant past and uneasy future.
Speaking of the real world “seeping in,” do you seek direct or subconscious inspiration by immersing yourself in the Pacific Northwest’s wilderness?
Absolutely. I spend a lot of time outside. There’s so much sublime beauty around here, it’s impossible not to be influenced by it. Contemplating the mountains and gorges really makes human time feel small in comparison.
In my preparation for this interview I did a deep dive into one of your big influences, Canadian landscape painter Lawren Harris, which led me to some reading about his dedication to Theosophy, and its belief that artists are spiritually evolved beings who have the responsibility of enlightening the rest of the world. A bit grandiose, for sure, but also fun to consider artists as having supernatural sensibilities. Does painting ever make you feel connected to something bigger than yourself?
I like that. Hopefully, there are enough artists out there to keep us enlightened! When I’m in the process of painting, I definitely feel like I’m tapping into a force larger than me. Nothing is planned too far in advance, so witnessing the paintings manifest over time, while also being the cause of the manifestation, is a pretty trippy experience.
You studied sculpture, glassblowing, and ceramics at New York’s Alfred University before centering on the two-dimensional medium of oil painting. Do you ever miss the 3-D space, or does the environmental depth of your paintings cover that base?
Not really. I much prefer the directness of oil painting as well as the solitary aspect. Having a constant connection to the studio, and all the rituals within it, keeps me going. I do enjoy the three-dimensional medium of stretcher building, which I think scratches any itch I may have of object making.
You just had a show called Water Color at PDX Contemporary Art—how did it go, and what’s next for you?
It was great. The work in the show was a culmination of everything I’ve made since the pandemic. Lots of ideas about where we are now, and where we’re headed (Gulp!). Right now I’m taking a little break and moving my studio. Excited to see what comes out of my new surroundings.
See more of Adam Sorenson's work at adamsorensen.net.