Whitehot Magazine

Slipping Through Time with Wayne Sorce's City Scenes

Wayne Sorce, East Chicago, 1977, courtesy of Joseph Bellows Gallery

Wayne Sorce: Urban Color
October 21 - November 30, 2017
Joseph Bellows Gallery
7661 Girard Avenue, La Jolla, CA 92037


Life is lived in color. And yet when it comes to photography, so much of it is documented in black and white images. American photographer Wayne Sorce (1946-2015) came of age during a time when the scholarship on the newly prevalent color photography was undecided on its fine art potential. Was it archival enough; was it too pedestrian in widespread amateur usage, vacation snaps and lifestyle magazines, etc. How much control does the artist exercise in the printing phase. The selected large-scale photographs in Urban Color date from the 1970’s and early 1980’s. Taken in Chicago and New York City, their clarity of architectural, chromatic, and energetic vision offers just the sort of sophisticated, complex, authentic, and ambitious practice which most forcefully made the case for the canon.

Wayne Sorce, Varick Street, New York, 1984, courtesy of Joseph Bellows Gallery

Wayne Sorce, Fort Dearborn Coffee, Chicago, 1977, courtesy of Joseph Bellows Gallery

The role of color is crucial to formulating the depth of the urban cacophony. In still photographs, color can sort of stand in for audible noise in terms of the experiential flavor of an urban place. The clashes and confluences of signs, ads, cars, clothing -- all of it -- builds up the multisensory simultaneity, and in its muted moments amplifies the silences that also flavor the city as subject. In the strongest works Sorce demonstrates not only a mastery of framing, but also the vertiginous magic of angles, the cinematic power of noirish neon, the thorny emotion of dereliction, the optimism of shop windows and far-off skyscrapers. While their production value and material attributes belong firmly in tradition and in the late ‘70s, Sorce achieves a timelessness beyond pictorialism, a feeling combining sidewalk genre painting with a mechanical vision. Its specificity and evocative detail is such that you can almost breathe the air.

Wayne Sorce, Hats, 1985, courtesy of Joseph Bellows Gallery

Wayne Sorce, Greyhound Station, c. 1970s, courtesy of Joseph Bellows Gallery

Both monumentally solid and in constant motion, Sorce layers his city scenes with architecture, pedestrians, and vehicular traffic, where the painterly quality of motion blur and the casual surrealism of reflection and motif are captured on a single plane. Within certain images, notice the role of the occasional figure, often small inside the wider scene. While mostly oblivious, they are sometimes caught at the exact moment when they become aware they are being photographed. It adds a note of humor to the narrative, while also serving as a salient reminder of the presence and attention of the artist in making the picture.

Wayne Sorce, Vinegar Hill, New York, 1985, courtesy of Joseph Bellows Gallery

Wayne Sorce, L.B. Oil, New York, 1984, courtesy of Joseph Bellows Gallery

The car is a frequent element of both composition and story for Sorce, almost supplanting the figures as protagonists, their various conditions, stylistic flairs, positions, and motions being as expressive of the character of the neighborhood as the businesses and the people, if not more so. The cars especially (the red Stingray, the green Caddy, the painted taxicabs) are not only “period” to contemporary viewers, but were remarkable to Sorce even at the time. Likewise, the signage which now registers as haute vintage -- was it already quaint? I can’t quite remember… though I knew it was charming, was it already old when I was young? With so much of the architecture already in disrepair, it must have already signified the past at the time the pictures were made; and it’s in our double past-tense now, as both the city and now also the art ages into history. WM

Wayne Sorce, Five Bros, 1982, courtesy of Joseph Bellows Gallery

Wayne Sorce, Dave's Restaurant, New York, 1984, courtesy of Joseph Bellows Gallery


Shana Nys Dambrot

Shana Nys Dambrot is an art critic, curator, and author based in Downtown LA. She is the Arts Editor for the LA Weekly, and a contributor to Flaunt, Art and Cake, Artillery, and Palm Springs Life.

She studied Art History at Vassar College, writes essays for books and catalogs, curates and juries a few exhibitions each year, is a dedicated Instagram photographer and author of experimental short fiction, and speaks at galleries, schools, and cultural institutions nationally. She is a member of ArtTable and the LA Press Club, and sits on the Boards of Art Share-LA and the Venice Institute of Contemporary Art, the Advisory Council of Building Bridges Art Exchange, and the Brain Trust of Some Serious Business.


Photo of Shana Nys Dambrot by Osceola Refetoff


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