Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Edward Sorel, a Retrospective at the School of Visual Arts

I've been meaning to tell you about a retrospective of one of my true heroes, Edward Sorel, that is now hanging at the School of Visual Arts in NYC.

As an art student fresh out of high school in the late '70's, I was slowly becoming more and more aware of artwork outside of comic books and paperback covers. Before too long, I found myself introduced to the work of Ed Sorel and began a long and successful campaign of studying and stealing from him. There was an energy and fearlessness in his line work that was irresistible to me. How could anyone draw so loosely and yet so sculpturally at the same time? His pictures looked as if Giacometti had discovered spectacles and a sense of humor.

In so many ways, Sorel's work has been a kind of life raft for me. As I groped to find my own style and fought the temptation to render things to a rigor mortis finish, his illustrations were always a reminder to me of the beauty in errant lines; the ones you have to put down on the page while you search for your subject. I have always loved drawings that reveal that process. You can see it in Kley and Rowlandson in their finished work and of course in Daumier's ,but you will find it in just about everyone's preliminary drawings. The difference is that too often, those beautiful mistakes are sandblasted away in the final product. I always took the presence of those lines in Sorel's work as an act of bravery and it took me a long time to forgive myself and embrace the imperfections of my own drawings. In truth, I am rarely satisfied with my finished pieces but if any of them do actually retain a heartbeat, there is a good chance that I had pulled a book of Sorel drawings off the shelf to help me find my way.

If you are in New York City before November 5th you have a unique opportunity to see a huge retrospective of Sorel's work. I think you will be dazzled by it and hopefully emboldened, too. You may discover that there is a lot to be said about working with real pen and real ink without the dangerous luxury of "command z". Working on the computer has its endless advantages, of course, but it can sometimes make things just a little too easy to fix.

As a wonderful extra to the show, Leo Sorel, Ed's son and a great photographer in his own right, has created a short film about his father's life and work. Apart from interviewing a handful of artists who both know Ed and admire his work- Milton Glaser, Jim McMullan, Jules Feiffer and myself (I was honored to be asked) we also get to see Sorel actually composing a piece from start to finish. Even for such a longtime fan as myself, it was astonishing to see him working up there without a net and without so much as a preliminary pencil sketch to guide him.
Just the pen, the ink and the paper and whatever came next.

For more info, go here.


  1. Great post! I'm a big admirer of Sorel also.

    I'd particularly love to hear Jim McMullan speak. If it's possible, he's even braver and bolder than Sorel. Ed uses so many thin strokes, if one misses the mark, the next few will compensate. McMullan gets the job done with so few strokes or smudges of watercolor, it astounds me. He has at least two great books that explain how he approaches the job and wrestles with his clients. I'd love more insight into how he wrestles with blank paper.

  2. I'm a huge fan of Sorel's work, and am so sorry that I won't be in the City to see this exhibition. What brilliance pours out of that pen and brain. And it was great to see my Guillotine original in your post. It's even better in person.

  3. There's something to be said about the rawness of a sketch. As you said, those errant lines and the general "roughness" that a preliminary drawing has add a certain life to the image, which can be easily lost in the final version. Though imaging software makes it easy to undo an unintended stroke, how much is lost in the personality of the rendering? Very nice post on both a great artist and our method of approach when creating artwork.

  4. So inspiring to see Sorel work!


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