Sublimity and Shape: Steven Sorman at the FWMoA

I visited the Fort Wayne Museum of Art the first week of April. While there, I had the chance to see a few magnificent exhibitions.

First was Steven Sorman: Only When (March 28-June 14).

Sorman is known for his complex printmaking techniques which give his works velvety, rich surfaces. The museum has been collecting Sorman’s work since 1985. Many of the works on display are not reproduced on Sorman’s website or other online archives, make time to see these works in person. Overall, I felt the show was addressing themes of how binaries like self/other or peace/chaos create an emotional and intellectual movement towards transition and overcoming.  Heady ideas, beautiful execution.

The show is organized into three large rooms. In the first room right in the entrance way, is no mention from 1990, a multimedia piece. It demonstrates a swirling balance of heavy and delicate shapes. It has predominately dark colors beautifully punctuated by rhythmic curves of complementary colors. The entire non-objective work layers the media in ways to create the effect of perspective, depth, and movement.

There were works of all sizes in the show, large and small. One of the smaller pieces was gladwin from 1976, looking like a tiny Rothko with bands of warm, sunset colors. The introductory text hung on the wall of the exhibition compares some of Sorman’s work to Motherwell’s, and the comparison is sound, particularly in some of the more minimal art featuring stark, black and white line work, like Sorman’s each (other) from 1983.

The second room was my favorite for all the variety of shape and form. With you, 1990, is a litho, mixed-media work comprised of three prints in one large frame like a triptych. The work featured vaguely floral forms bookended by registers of red. The progression of forms read from left to right: clean, sharp lines, grids and curves on the left; muddier and smudged shapes in the middle; ghosted images with faded layers on the right. With you speaks of the themes of atrophy and becoming. The two merge into one (thus the title) neither source quite the same nor distinct.

Merging, evolving, becoming… these were all themes that subtly emerged from the prints on the walls as I walked through the rooms. Some of the recurring shapes reminded me of maps, other of trees, some, more abstractly, of birth and life. Reluctant Soldiers, 1993, is a large composition with flowing gestures of light and bright colors. Floating within this biomorphic mass is a dark red rectangle with a gestural, non-figurative shape within. The shape is curved.  When I looked at it longer, I couldn’t help but think of it as a fetus, even though it doesn’t literally look like one.  Reluctant Soldiers communicates something about the binary between internal and external. Clean lines of self afloat in the dark red, amongst the wavering chaos; the seclusion penetrated by a swift stroke of paint, almost umbilical like.

Sorman, from time to time xii, 2000.
Sorman, from time to time xii, 2000.

In the last room was from time to time xii, 2000, which featured repetitions of spiral shapes to induce a dizzying movement into a collage of line work and shapes both disparate and connected. The color red is used as a perimeter, while the color blue frames intricate layers of uplifting, earthly-colored organic shapes.

Sorman, is was will be (DETAIL), 2010
Sorman, is was will be (DETAIL), 2010

The major work in the room was is was will be from 2010. It is 9 feet by 39 feet. This is Sorman’s rendition of the universe. Rows of spirals, like galaxies, interconnected by overlays of concentric circles, wavering lines, and Mobius strip like movements. The overall effect is something like a star map, complete with lines of magnetic energy and orbits. It is cool, moody, and expansive. It is organic, but also mechanical. I was intrigued by this work, but not really awed by it. Fascinated, but not passionate.

Steven Sorman’s work is best seen in person.  The colors are rich, and the prints have a depth and texture to them that just do not get communicated through digital reproduction.  The themes are solidly communicated through the titles and the non-objective forms.  The show is beautifully curated.  This is a must see!

———- links ——————

The FWMoA website:

Steven Sorman’s personal website has numerous images from prints not in this exhibition:

There’s a video on YouTube of Sorman speaking about is was will be.


Published by Dr. EMS

Art history professor and lover of all things contemporary arts. Teaching and living in Zhejiang province, China.

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