‘I’m probably the only guy you’ve ever met that’s been run over by a stagecoach’
Caught in the middle of nowhere, a stagecoach flees a pursuing gang of bandits, and through the dust and drama its six frightened horses are thundering straight toward the viewer. That of course was artist Jack Sorenson’s intent when he rendered The Attempt on the Stage, a 36-by-48-inch oil painting, in 2014.
“I tried to put the viewer in the feeling of, You better get out of the way!” Sorenson, 60, says during an opening at Joe Wade Fine Art, one of the premier Western art galleries in Santa Fe, N.M. “I love action paintings, but hardly anybody does them anymore, and I don’t understand why.”
Sorenson, who grew up in the Texas Panhandle practically spitting distance from Palo Duro Canyon, has always tried to depict unique compositions, and as far as stagecoaches go, well, it’s hard to find an artist better suited to paint them. “I’m probably the only guy you’ve ever met that’s been run over by a stagecoach,” he says, then adds with a laugh, “I can show you the scar on my leg.”
It happened when Sorenson was around 17 years old, working at his father’s Six Gun City, a frontier-themed tourist town/dude ranch on Palo Duro’s rim. For six years Sorenson had two jobs—stagecoach driver and gunfighter. “How could I have had a better childhood for what I do now?” he says. After all, he was really playing cowboy as a kid.
The accident, by the way, didn’t break his leg. “I don’t know how it didn’t,” he recalls, “because that stage was full of people.” But it did leave him “stove up” for a while.
Sorenson turned to painting full time in 1974, and he’s still at it. He has become one of Leanin’ Tree greeting card company’s best-selling artists, has been featured in magazines galore, has been honored by the Texas Legislature and has even had a feature (Sorenson Peak) in Palo Duro Canyon named after him.
Not bad for a guy who just likes to draw.
“I think my gift is drawing,” he says. “I can’t ever remember not being able to draw.” His forte is drawing animals, in every position and from every angle, every direction. He fills 18-by-24 sketchpads with drawings of horses, cattle, bison, etc., while out on “field studies” or just while watching the classic TV Western Gunsmoke.
“I’m a workaholic,” he says. “I love what I do. And I don’t want to be limited by what I don’t have. I like to do paintings you couldn’t have taken a photograph of. Action. Horses running. Indians. And I try to come up with a composition that I’ve never seen.”
Which is why the stagecoach is heading downhill in The Attempt on the Stage.
“Horses are at their worst going downhill,” Sorenson explains. “That’s where they’re the least steady. In one image I try to capture as much drama as I can. Besides, it makes the painting have more power if I can do it and make what the horses are doing more complicated.”
He also needs a backstory. “That lets you put in more details,” he says.
The backstory to The Attempt on the Stage?
“They have to get to the way station as soon as possible. They’re caught in the middle of totally nowhere, and they’re obviously outnumbered. You don’t want to show a hopeless situation, but you want to show a dramatic situation.”
His son, Joshua, 35, has followed in his footsteps. Taking up oil painting in 1999 and turning full-time artist in 2010, the younger Sorenson also shows at Joe Wade Fine Art. “His natural talent is people,” Jack says of his son. “Mine’s animals. But I’ll make him go out and paint buffalo. I make him work really hard.”
Which seems to come naturally for the Sorenson family.
To see more browse Jack Sorenson’s website.