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The Interstellar Art of Verona Sorensen @ Le Gesù

The Interstellar Art of Verona Sorensen @ Le Gesù

Verona Sorensen

This Thursday, July 13, from 3pm to 5pm, catch Verona Sorensen’s Interstellar Art inside Le Gesù at 1200 de Bleury

During the Montreal Jazz Festival, from June 28th to July 16th, the Le Gesù performing arts venue is hosting Art-Expo. Curated by Professor Norman Cornett, nine artists were selected to each display four of their paintings. Throughout the three weeks, each artist will have a personal vernissage featuring more of their works in a beautiful room inside the main showing space.

When I saw that Montreal painter Verona Sorenson was part of the show, I leapt at the chance to interview her. Her work moves me so I was thrilled to learn more about her process. She is one of those rare local artists who has legitimately gone international, having had exhibitions across Canada, the USA, Europe and Latin America. Verona’s works can be found in the major corporate collections of Loto-Quebec, Bankers Hall, Jameson Development Corp., Nicolet Chartrand Knoll Ltée, Nordstrom and in various private collections around the world.

In terms of her background, she was born in Montreal and raised in the Eastern Townships of Quebec to a Filipino mother and a Norwegian father who was also a painter. She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Concordia. After graduation she was invited to apprentice with the Dormice art collective in Europe. After two years of training with them in Italy and Austria, she moved to Mexico to study the technique of encaustic painting.

Her artist statement reads as follows: “I am interested in creating paintings where concrete forms intermingle with elusive space, in an attempt to find balance. I work in an additive and deductive manner, both exploring the influence of time and its effect on surfaces, as well as exploring depth through contrasting planes.”

Verona Sorensen
Little Island | Verona Sorensen

I first discovered her art in 2018 and frankly I was blown away. She makes the kind of abstract expressionist pieces that strike a chord deep within me. Her works have depth, darkness, emotion, movement and texture. She uses heated wax and oil to incorporate other materials like sand, pigments and black tourmaline into the canvas. To describe this process here is a quote from Sandy Campbell’s glowing review of Verona’s 2014 exhibition ABSTRACT in London, England:

“Having studied encaustic painting Sorensen’s canvasses are deep, heavily textured surfaces built up over months or even years using oil, wax and sand. Once these dynamic layers have been built up she then scratches away at the surface to give glimpses of the rich surfaces beneath. She says of her work ‘I want to reveal the beauty lingering below surfaces. My paintings communicate strength and vulnerability. Analogies of the human condition; the hardships, the darkness and the luminosity.'”

So on a warm Sunday evening I had a delightful walk in the rain up to her studio to interview her. We spent 90 minutes thoroughly engrossed in the themes in her work, her process, her evolution as an artist and the use of Artificial Intelligence in Art. Here are the highlights…

Let’s start by talking about your process and technique. Your bio says your work explores the influence of time and its effect on surfaces. What does this involve?

When I started painting, I was doing very figurative art. I was mainly learning how to understand the face. It’s a very different kind of process when there is a reference point. It can be super meditative. But when I started making abstract paintings, it felt less meditative. I wasn’t translating what I would see with my eyes, through my hand directly onto the canvas anymore. It felt like I was not using the same muscles and brain processes.

Now I recognize it as feeling more like a dance – the canvas speaks to me, and then I respond back – making a mark, assessing, responding. There are no rules about what it’s supposed to look like, so you’re just dancing with the unknown and creating a language of your own. Adding and subtracting different layers of texture, searching for some kind of balance.

I often have to give myself time to really assess if it feels right. I also try to give room for the subconscious to get involved and partake in the creation, by not being too heady about the whole thing. All the while some part of me is trying to make sense of it in terms of form and composition. I might have an inspiration about what it’s gonna look like or feel like, but for me it’s very rarely spelled out beforehand.

 Verona Sorensen
Urban Writing on Interstellar Walls | Verona Sorensen

Let’s talk about the INTERSTELLAR paintings that you are presenting this week at Le Gesù. This series seems to be a new direction in your work, it uses a much brighter color palette and has more form, less texture.

Your press release describes it as: “Paintings of interstellar landscapes, where concrete forms intermingle with elusive space. I explore the way complimentary and contrasting colors create depth in a play of intertwining the foreground and background. In a world increasingly dominated by technology, it’s important to find balance, where the machine can meet the ephemeral.”

Tell us about the themes in this collection and what inspired this new direction?

A few years after my father passed, I saw the film Interstellar. In it, there is a profound link between the father and daughter and their connection through time and space. The idea of having an ability to communicate beyond, from one realm to another, intrigued me. There are shots in the film where a tiny spaceship contrasts with the empty space around it. One gets the impression of being lost in a frightening, yet awe-inspiring depth. That’s part of what I try to capture in this series.

In terms of technique, I started working with green tape. Using it helped me construct where and how to divide the composition, where to get some straight lines. The cloud-like, fluid feeling in the background contrasts with the hard edge lines, creating a sense of depth. These sharp edged forms made me think about those spaceships flying through the galaxy.

Also during the pandemic, I moved my studio into the living space of my loft. So I switched from oil paint to acrylic because it’s less toxic. Acrylic is a medium that dries quickly and is more matte. It’s more challenging to build the same kind of rich textures as with oil paint, whereby the colors can come through the darker tones more subtly. So, I began playing with depth in a new way, by incorporating a brighter and contrasting color palette.

Verona Sorensen
Numbers series : Italia Vitalia and Summer Splash | Verona Sorensen

Let’s talk about your interest in the machine meeting the ephemeral. We use the technology of our phones, laptops, flat screens and video game consoles to create, to communicate, to have ephemeral experiences that create spikes of dopamine in our nervous systems. What were you referencing about this concept with interstellar?

During the pandemic I got to thinking about how the body is kind of like a spaceship. A host that’s protecting some part of us that is just exploring and visiting here. The body is our technology in a way, it’s biotech. The spirit needs to have some kind of a vehicle to travel in.

So many artists are vehemently opposed to using AI. Yet for you this search for the ephemeral via machines is what made you to want to experiment with it. Which led to your new project in development called Ancestry AI and Art. What is the concept behind this new series?

I wanted to experiment with my two lineages. The landscapes of my mother’s Filipino side, which are visually colorful with lush flowers and green plants and my father’s Scandinavian side, with its mountains, ice, earth tones and white snow. A person can upload a minimum of 30 images into the Playform AI software that I use. So, I plug in 15 images from each side and train the AI to amalgamate them, resulting in hundreds of blended images. I choose my favorites ones and make paintings inspired by the results.

The AI spits out so much output. Batches of 50 images with all the nuanced micro transitions between iterations. How do you navigate all of these possibilities? You just have to do it intuitively, go with what resonates. It’s all kind of interesting, some are creepy looking, very weird, strange amalgamations and others look like landscapes and organs – the heart or lungs.

I also did a deep dive into my genealogy and discovered that I am related to Daniel Boone, who is my first cousin, eight times removed. Learning more about the adventures of my ancestors during the Gold Rush had me venturing to Nome in Alaska with my great grandfather in mind. All these little bits and pieces of information gets incorporated into the orchestra and composition of the paintings, even if only as a backstory. I tried superimposing my family tree on top of some canvases, but I am not sure it works. I am still exploring how to translate all of this fascinating history into a visual vocabulary. It’s in development – a work in progress. In the next chapter of this project, I am interested in exploring how healing weaves into the creation of art.

The Interstellar Art of Verona Sorensen @ Le Gesù 1
Verona Sorenson

This is my favorite question to ask in interviews. The life of an artist is full of highs and lows, triumphs and failures. It requires not just talent but perseverance. As a musician I remember the first time I performed internationally at a major festival in Europe. It gave me a massive validation that I was on the right path in my life. I was finally getting to where I’m supposed to be.

So how does it feel to see your work being appreciated in other countries? Did you have a distinct moment where you felt that you’d arrived, that you made it, that your career was legit? How about a totally surreal moment where you felt like a bona fide rock star? On the flip side, did you have any hilarious disasters that almost ruined an exposition?

There was that moment during my London show ABSTRACT at the Woolff Gallery where my art was featured in an article in the international edition of the Wall Street Journal. I was like, wow, I wasn’t expecting that! It was an amazing surprise. Those kind of things are exciting, you think it’s going to open a lot doors and it will be smooth sailing from there on in, but (haha) it just doesn’t happen that way. It’s still always a lot of work afterwards.

Another surreal fun moment was working with Portia de Rossi. She started this project in California called General Public. They do reproductions of paintings with an impeccably high level of quality. They work very closely with Restoration Hardware, where they have placed five of my paintings. It’s been amazing for exposure and has led to real sales, as well as to quarterly royalties.

I wish my memory was better so I could recall and share more of the sweet moments of this wild and beautiful journey. Partaking in the Ginestrelle Art Residency in Assisi, Italy was definitely up there! That month was sublime and then spending the following weeks travelling all around Italy was a true experience of happiness. I would say I savored many moments of triumph during that time.

Ultimately though when your work really touches somebody, that’s probably the real triumph. That ephemeral connection when your work hits somebody hard. Being present, really connecting with the different experiences that life has to offer. When I’m really present I can feel something that feels otherworldly.

Verona Sorensen
Fire in the Sky | Verona Sorensen

One of the other things that I admire about you is how you express your love for our fair city and its citizens. Please tell us more about your charitable organisation that helps the homeless. Please plug your website where people can make donations!

Food for Thought for the Homeless began in 2016. We distribute food, clothes, toiletries, art and writing supplies to the homeless. It’s all about connecting with our own humanity, with our community. We did many drives throughout the years. The momentum was full-on and sometimes I was just trying to keep up with it. It’s an exciting project that often reminds me what it feels like to be of service to something bigger than myself.

Although the pandemic made it much harder to sustain this project, it allowed me to focus that same energy, intention and vibration into making my art. Since the pandemic we now focus our food and care package activities around Christmas mainly. Here is the link to our GoFundMe for 2023.

Hopefully, I’ll stay here to continue to oversee it. But the difficulty of Montreal right now is the massive rent increases every year. Gentrification is a problem, as is the lack of affordable housing. The rise in the homeless population is a direct result. It’s not sustainable and the city needs to not forget people in the pursuit of profit. Speaking for myself, every year I dread the next annual rent increase. Sooner or later I suspect it will result in a move, perhaps out of the city or to another country. I love Montreal for so many reasons but it’s not making it easy for its artists to continue living here.

Thanks for taking the time to speak with us Verona! Are there any other details you would like to share about your vernissage this Thursday?

Thanks to you!!! Sure, the vernissage is Thursday, July 13th, from 3pm to 5pm, inside Le Gesù at 1200 Bleury. We will offer Prosecco, wine and finger food delights from an amazing new restaurant called Le Greenfield. I will display an array of accessible smaller and medium sized paintings, that add variation to the 4 paintings that are presently displayed in the main exhibiting area.

The main paintings consist of interstellar landscapes, where concrete forms intermingle with elusive space. I feel that this body of work reflects a macro/micro space journey, with machines venturing into unknown realms. The concrete container is as much a spaceship travelling through the galaxy, as it is our bodies holding space for our spirit/soul to exist and reside in this world of the material.

I hope some of you fly your ships over to Le Gesù this Thursday and we can celebrate this wonderful and wild realm together!

Verona Sorensen

To discover more about Verona Sorensen visit her website and Instagram.


Looking for more things to do while in downtown Montreal, rain or shine? Look here.

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