What is it that makes one artist innovate and another artist, living in the same place and time, stick with a style that works? “Courage, straight up!” Soren Wolff, studio artist, doesn’t drink coffee, so this sunny November morning he watches me drink my latte as we sit outside Coffeebar. He lets me pick his brain about his creative process behind his large canvas oil paintings currently showing here, part of a collaborative show with ceramics artist Kara Strehle.
Soren describes a person walking a proverbial plank off a ship. People behind them are yelling ‘No, no, come back and be with us!’ and in the water swim either beautiful creatures or sharks. The original innovator takes the jump. This analogy applies to people living every day, not only artists, he says.
Soren lives in Tahoe Donner. He built his house specifically with a painting studio and wall space for his large abstract canvases. In winter, he is a supervisor at Squaw Valley Snow Sports School, and in summer, he kiteboards, windsurfs, and paints.
“My number one influence is water, in all its forms, frozen, liquid, gaseous - whatever. How can you do anything creative without being inspired by Nature? We are a natural thing, we are nature.”
The evening of November 8th Coffeebar was filled with an eclectic mix of admirers of art in Tahoe taking in the collaborative effect of Kara’s ceramic sculptures of curvaceous movement frozen in a moment and Soren’s large paintings of dramatic ellipses and spheres.
“It’s a totally different experience looking at a smaller piece versus standing in front of a large canvas. Two artists that have influenced me the most are the painter Al Held and the sculpture Naum Gabo. They work on a huge scale. 50 x 80 feet. Very graphic. I learned from how Gabo uses tools of perspective in incorporating an ellipse.”
But when I questioned Soren further on influences, he insists, “I don’t want to be influenced. I would fear being insincere.”
Because the moment of beginning a new canvas is so daunting, part of his creative process is building stretchers and canvases, a meditative process to get into the right space. “When you are standing in front of a blank canvas that big, you’re like, oh God. There’s almost never a point when I’m not coming up with visual language to describe what I’m thinking about.”
I ask him about the meaning of a particular bright orange canvas that stands out, titled Nonlocality.
“Nonlocality is the idea that one particle can exist in two locations at the same time. This is also called action at a distance, where there is no apparent interaction between two objects separated by a distance and yet they impact each other. There is no chain of events, no causality. This happens in our day-to-day lives. Have you ever had the experience of reaching to call someone and they have already picked up the phone to speak to you? That’s nonlocality.
“As you move up through the scale of human experience, the same thing happens - we just don’t recognize it.”
There are three factors that play in any artist’s life, he continues, “Sincerity, humility, and fear.”
How have you taken risks, I ask.
“Showing my work is a big risk. It’s personal. I’m always trying to remove myself from my work. You know that dream where you are on the school bus in your underwear? You’re living it.
“What’s also scary is thinking you can make a living as a painter. What keeps my work sincere is that I’m virtually guaranteed no financial revenue from my work. We want to fit in and if you’re being original, you’re not going to fit in. I’m cursed and blessed by not having the viewer in mind.”
We talk about the creative soup of other artists and influences that exist in places like New York City. When I ask him how Tahoe’s geographic isolation from other artists and influences affects his work, he says, “We’re not isolated. In Tahoe, we have that [creative soup] on a limited scale. Nearly everyone here is trying to live creatively.
“But if I had my druthers, I would live at CERN, in Switzerland, where the Large Hadron Collider is located. That is a multi-billion collaborative effort to prove that something you can’t see exists in every point in space. That’s pretty cool.
“If you want to talk about cutting edge thought and innovation, that’s where it is, in the sciences. It is always walking that plank. I steal from them. Theoretical particle physics proposes questions incredibly hard to comprehend in this realm of three dimensions – it’s like magic. So many of these questions have to do with scale. I’m trying to express these ideas by limiting them to two dimensions. A lot of my intent is somehow bound in the frailty of the human existence.” (Published in Northwoods Magazine 2013)
Karen Terrey, MFA, is a writing coach and editor for business and creative writing including college application essays, offering workshops in Truckee through her business Tangled Roots Writing. She teaches at Sierra College and Lake Tahoe Community College. For information on workshops see her website www.karenaterrey.blogspot.com.