SOMEWHERE IN OUR COLLECTIVE MENTAL ART HISTORY, PAINTER JOE SORREN AND HIS ONE-OF-A-KIND STYLE REST COMFORTABLY BETWEEN THE SKEWED STYLINGS OF AESTHETIC HIGH PRIESTS LIKE PABLO PICASSO AND MARK RYDEN. TASTES LIKE CHICKEN'S PORTLIEST LITTLE WALLFLOWER, FPHATTY LAMAR, BREAKS BREAD WITH THE BEST THINGS THAT EVER HAPPENED TO ACRYLIC PAINT.
fphatty: You play drums as part of Lyle and the Sparkleface Band. Is the band something you do for fun or are there hopes of taking it further? I ask because it seems you devote a lot of energy to it.
Joe: No, thatís not it at all. We just do it because itís fun to do. I hooked up with a guy in 1990 and weíve put out five CDs so far. We just get together and make music.
f: Even in your art you have many musical references. Is music a major factor in your life?
J: Yeah. I love music to death. In college I either wanted to be a musician or a ďfancy artist guy.Ē I was all over the place; but my wife said to me, "You know, you should really choose one or the other." So I chose art and kept doing music anyway.
f: Because you were better at art?
J: Yeah. I think my strength lies there. I had been doing art longer and felt more comfortable with it. The honest truth is, whenever I do music it feels fun, but whenever I do art it feels right. It feels like Iíve spent my time in a worthwhile way.
f: What kind of music are you into?
J: Iím into everything. Iíll tell you what I listened to today. One of those albums I forget about but love is Gish by the Smashing Pumpkins. You know, when youíre here and youíre working all day, youíll listen to anything. I keep putting on Tom Waitsí new one. I canít stop listening to it. And I listen to some classical music, which is nice; like a greatest hits with a little bit of this and a little bit of that. And I love books on tape. I listened to music for eight hours straight today, so you would think I would be able to think of more. The thing is, if I donít wear headphones while I work on the mural, every grandma in town stops me and asks, "What are you working on?Ē Iíve been working on it for nine months now and I need to get it done.
f: Tell me a little more about it.
J: Itís on an outdoor wall in downtown Flagstaff, Arizona. Itís 40' x 60'. I had fun developing it, and sneaking in little details here and there. Like a two-inch recreation of Davidís The Death of Marat, hiding in a buttercup.
f: Where does your subject matter come from? Does it all just come randomly from your head?
J: Actually, thereís a phone number I call thatíll supply all of that for you. (laughs) No, I wish I had a great answer for that Ďcause I get asked it a lot. I put a canvas in front of me and start painting, and things just kinda appear.
f: What about your titles; do they mean anything?
J: The titles mean a lot. Iíve spent a few days working on some of them constantly, with paper or a typewriter; working and editing, because Iím really bad with words. So I like to work on it, work on it, and work on it until itís perfect. Itís really enjoyable. For me, artís about the process, and I really enjoy that.
f: Do you always use acrylic?
J: I just bought some oils and when I get done with the mural Iíll have fun playing with them. But so far itís been acrylic. Just the paint and water. I donít use the gel mediums and stuff they have for acrylic. I just have a big bucket of water next to me, so I donít have to think about hitting little half-inch cups of glaze or whatever. It allows me to constantly stare at the canvas. There is something cool that Brian Eno once said. He was discussing musical gear, and had talked about the importance of equipment becoming transparent-- when you no longer notice the materials you are using, but only the results they can lead you to.
f: Iíve seen your work categorized as ďchildlike.Ē Do you feel thatís accurate, or maybe more of a broad generalization?
J: I think itís the biggest insult Iíve ever gotten in my life.
J: No. (laughs) I do think it is too broad, but I donít worry about how my workís perceived because I just try to make pictures that are worth leaving on the planet. Iíve had people say, "Your stuff is so childlike," and people say, "Your stuff is so serious." My intention isnít to make childlike images; just images that I like.
f: Iíve heard you mention potential energy in your compositions; that they are made of slow or even still moments in time. Is this a staple in all of your work?
J: I used to have teachers tell me that I had to have everything flying off of the canvas! But, I found that by slowing things down, thereís a power in there. Have you ever been night-swimming?
J: Well, next time you go, go out really far and go under the water and donít move. Thatís the feeling Iím going for. But when you talk about things you can strip them of their power. When I talk about art I turn off something in me that I use when I paint. I tend to say, "Iím really glad you like my painting." I donít have a problem talking about it, but if I explain it, then in the end I wouldnít need to paint. I would just write about it.
f: Dudley Moore, Joan Rivers, and Louis Anderson all walk into your bedroom at the same time. Who do you kill first?
J: Easy: Joan Rivers. The rest of us sit around and chew the fat. You know, Louis is really fat. We chew his fat.
f: Who would you like to paint on?
f: How many fingers am I holding up?
f: Whatís in your freezer?
J: Frozen waffles, a mini-tea set, an icicle from last winter, and homemade popsicles-- grape.
f: What musician makes you want to vomit when you hear them?
J: Celine Dion really gets me that way. She really moves me-- to the restroom.
f: Do dogs have lips?
f: The drink of choice?
f: Are you The Gate Keeper?
J: Are you The Messenger?
f: What food are you most like?
J: Beef tongue. I really relate to beef tongue.
SEE MORE OF JOE'S BEAUTIFUL WORK AT JOESORREN.COM