CONCURRENT - MARK LANG & VERONA SORENSEN
Mark and Verona put forward a very collaborative approach to exhibiting their work in Concurrent. Their statements offer a comprehensive response to what they selected to show, and why. These works have proven very popular at the gallery. It feels as though this trio should be acquired altogether as they are of the same body and spirit.
Over the years when Mark Lang and I would bump into each other, ‘time’ would seem to distort itself. More often than not we would get fully immersed in conversations only to realize an hour, if not more, had just whizzed by while we stood, say, on a street corner, exchanging thoughts and perspectives. Sometimes in an instant – if lucky – one can glimpse the ‘essence’ of a person, all details and complexities aside. Similarly, when I paint an abstract image, I strive for the essence of an emotion, an experience, a moment in time, and let the specifics of the story lightly fade from the picture.
The dynamics between abstract and figurative art have always fascinated me. When I first began to paint, I focused solely on refining my ability to portray a realistic figure. For years this was what I developed, then at a turning point I began to explore abstraction and it seemed to envelop me completely. For myself, one approach was more calming and orderly and the other more chaotic and instinctual. At the end of the day, however, it is all painting. As Mark wrote, “an abstract painting and a figurative one are essentially the same thing, pigments organized in a certain way on a surface.” I 'read' figurative painting like a narrative story and abstraction like a poem; both can be relished and savoured and appreciated, one tends to be more specific while the other is slightly elusive.
The particularities of a painting can be so precious and rich that when one dives into them the experience can be one of awe. This often happens to me when viewing the paintings of Mark Lang. The realistic details captured are of a refinement and exactitude that is jaw-dropping and inspiring. When I was most recently in Europe I recognized Mark’s paintings alive in the flesh before me, particularly in Italian and British museums. I would watch a guard slowly stride across a room, past onlookers immersed in works by Vermeer and Rubens, while a student painter with easel, canvas, and brush in hand attempted to capture the nuances of whatever masterpiece was before him, and it reminded me of the movement that springs up around and in front of the paintings that hang in our lives. It was like watching a Mark Lang scene just before it unravels itself into parallel mirroring dimensions. I actually felt like I was walking through one of his paintings.
Whenever I see Verona she always seems to be just returning from a trip or just about to leave on another one. We run into each other randomly at events, on the street, even once at a funeral. On occasion we visit each other’s studios and talk painting a bit, but I find our conversations always wander off into some other interesting territory. She has philosophical tendencies. We have known each other for quite a few years now, and yet, because of the transitory nature of the relationship, I would say we don’t know each other particularly well. We’ve collaborated in the past on paintings where Verona has acted as model. To my intuition, she seemed right for various images, and she has added a dimension to them that would not have been there without her presence. From looking at our work and the difference in our approach, you might think we would not have much in common, but I think this would be wrong. My own particular interest lies in images, their history and mythology, visual perception and the relationships between the depiction of reality and the experience of it. I try to explore these interests in a playful manner, but through highly organized pictures in what people might commonly think of as a “traditional” style. Verona explores her interests with a different approach, more “modernist” and expressive in the use of the medium, not image based, but not necessarily less organized. Some of our interests overlap. In both cases, the form of a particular painting reflects the content of each painter’s interest in doing it. She can explain her own interests much better than I ever could, so I leave that to her.
For this project Verona and I sat down briefly and discussed a few ideas. ( just before she went off on a trip) After this meeting, I decided to do a portrait of her depicting her and some of her work, that reflects the relationship I’ve just described. In portraiture, there are three basic poses: the frontal view, the profile and the three quarter view. Traditionally the three quarter view is regarded as the most revealing, because it shows aspects of both the frontal view and the profile. I thought it was interesting that linguistically, the term “three quarter view” sounds more limited than “profile” and “frontal”. We think of frontal as something direct and confrontational, and the word profile even refers to a detailed list of someone’s attributes, as in “doing a profile on someone”. These two terms imply completeness, but three quarters implies something partially known. I decided to use this as a point of departure for the painting because of my feeling that our interests overlap, but that we know each other only partially. I incorporated the idea of the three quarter view in several ways. First, I decided to make an indirect reference to geometric abstraction in the background because Verona’s father was also an abstract painter who often used geometry in his compositions. I divided the canvas geometrically into vertical and horizontal bands, one quarter the size of the canvas each and used those divisions as the foundation for the composition. They become the background, or environment of the picture, constituting a gallery space. Next, with Verona’s permission I included partial facsimiles of three of her paintings. My copies are nowhere near as rich as the real thing, but just enough to give an impression of how they look from a distance. There is something absurd about trying to reproduce such expressive paintings in such a controlled way. I placed one of them in perspective in a three quarter view. This bit of visual humour refers to the contrast between the flat surface of a painting in opposition to the illusion of three dimensions. This draws attention to the idea that an abstract painting and a figurative one are essentially the same thing, pigments organized in a certain way on a surface. Finally, I’ve painted a representation of Verona herself in three quarter view, partially obscured, exactly three quarters of the way across the composition. From the waist up, only three quarters of her is visible and she extends three quarters of the way up the canvas. The image is based on photos she sent me from her travels in Italy. It only partially resembles her. I hope it shows distance, but a certain respect and fondness. This gives the impression of someone seen only partially, in passing, appreciated, but who isn’t fully known.