Barbara Sorensen at Harry P. Leu Gardens

Clay sculptor Barbara Sorensen is a true daughter of the American Revolution – the Clay Revolution, that is. Led by Peter Voulkos and a bunch of guys, the “clay revolution” liberated clay art from the prettiness and preciousness of craft. Their brusque sculptures lent clay the genius of abstraction and chance.

Barbara Sorensen has pushed the edge still farther. Using methods she learned from Voulkos, Paul Soldner, and Don Reitz, she’s invented monumental standing figures of such grace and aspiration that they demand the freedom of an open sky. Up close, Sorensen’s “sirens” and “caryatides” bristle with the rough textures and varied colors that emerge partly by chance in the kiln. Each firing is a discovery and some are a revelation. All her sculptures bear witness to the magical transformation of earth by fire. Small stones have burst, glazes have crusted, and intriguing imperfection pock the surfaces.

But from a distance in an outdoor installation, Sorensen’s forms establish a different mode of being for the pot. These pots are Rocky Mountain pinnacles holding up the sky. They are alluring water spirits calling passersby to their destruction. They are stolid Greek maidens bearing empty vases to the spring. Even Sorensen’s chalices now rise on stems, no longer vessels but rather blossoms in a magical volcanic field. Each form shows its origin in the shape of the vase but aspires to something we expect to see in stone-the curving form of the caryatide or an elegant Ionic column.

Barbara Sorensen’s re-invention of the pot as a standing form draws the clay revolution back towards the roots of ancient sculpture. The ancient Greeks made six-foot vases to stand as grave markers. The ancient Chinese created armies of clay soldiers and horses to guard the dead’s tomb. Sorensen’s pinnacles and sirens have nothing like the function of the these ancient clay arts. Because she’s willing to work on a large scale, she brings new audacity to the original impulse of Voulkos and his compadres. They showed that clay could be as bold and pure as a Jackson Pollock painting. Sorensen shows that clay can be as big as the sky or as enduring as a classical column, left standing by time with no roof to bear. She has earned the title of clay post-revolutionary, and inventor in her own right.

Philip E. Bishop, Professor of Humanities Valencia College, Art Critic for the Orlando Sentinel