William Sorvillo is an artist who creates work that has an evident amount of aestetic accord and elicits both spiritual contemplation and demonstrates psychological attunement. His work powerfully and masterfully uses an assortment of colors, materials, and textures to bring the viewer into his world of expansive curiosity and attentiveness. Sorvillo shares glimpses into his own personal journey and transcendental awakenings.
“The son of an Episcopal priest, Sorvillo has also studied with Lakota Medicine in South Dakota, Buddhist monks in Japan, yogis in the caves of the Himalayas and a shaman from Peru”
How did you develop your skills and foundation as an artist?
When I think about my artistic foundation, I think about my childhood, but it’s hard to describe a place where words have never been. My earliest memories are filled with some form of artistic expression. I thought and remembered in color. I would express my emotions in color. I remember scratching through my kindergarten teacher’s yearbook picture with a red crayon because she made me so mad that day. That felt better than words ever could.
I was that kid who would draw and color for hours and then get up and play by ear, the piano recital my elder brother had been struggling through. I was sensitive and a bit misunderstood, with all the music and art, philosophy, poetry and desire for solitude. So the foundation has just been me, who I am, navigating my way from the inside out.
At the same time there is this balancing act that transpired – between developing my skills as an artist, and keeping the creative, playful, sometimes reckless and liberated spirit that I had as a child alive. Picasso talked about this – the need to retain the creativity we had as children. It is no small undertaking. And I’m quite certain that the cynical people of this world are nothing more than disillusioned idealists.
Anyway, when I was six years old, my parents had me take drawing lessons with art teachers. They taught me the basics and helped to nurture my creative spirit. When I moved to NY, I started working with trained artists and painters. They helped me acquire the skills I needed to realize the creations I had in my head. I had been dreaming up original works in my head since I was 15. The training I got from these artists helped me bring those works to life.
But now, most of my skills come from just painting – consistently, experimentally, relentlessly painting – every night for years and years.
How did your upbringing as the son of a minister affect the nature of what kind of work you did?
Cool thing is, my father wasn’t only a priest. He was very creative. He played guitar, piano, banjo, he painted and did amazing carpentry. He dreamed of being an opera singer! So my dad had a rich internal life and I think that served us both, very well.
I remember a conversation I had with him when I was 17. I was looking for answers, reading a lot of Zen books and I asked him how I could know if his religion was the right religion. His response was “You don’t. I found what works for me. Find what works for you.” He gave me the permission to be me and that was such a great gift, especially as an artist.
Tell me about your experience with Buddhist monks in Japan and how it affected your perspective and world view?
Good question. Most of my twenties were spent figuring out who I was not. It was a trial and error process of elimination in real time. I was traveling through Asia over the course of six or seven months. I wanted to see the world, expand who I was, what I experienced and further my studies in Eastern philosophies.
There is a teaching among the Shingon Buddhists in Japan that I hold dear. It says that we are the fabric and the substance of the universe; that I am the fabric and the substance of the universe. I’m still soaking that in, but the more I live that, the more authentic my paintings become.
What this teaching also says is that there is nothing outside of God…or Buddha or Allah or Wakan Tanka…unless it chooses to be. At our best we are unified. At our worst, we are divided within ourselves. This is like some of the Native American teachings that tell us that the ego’s divine illusion is that it thinks it is somehow separate from that which created it. This illusion is why we often struggle, when we only need to surrender. There are times when I feel like I have to push upstream and then there are times when it’s best to float. Knowing when to do which is the art of living.
And more specifically to your question, and to Japanese culture, is the idea of wabi sabi – Imperfection is perfection; Vulnerability is strength; Gain by letting go. These teachings blew my mind and they resonate in my paintings, in my painting process and in how I live my life.
What are some political views you’ve integrated into your work?
My political views are actually a request – a request that we look for, acknowledge, and respect each others’ humanity; a request that we examine ourselves, our contradictions, our biases and realize that we are not complete, that we will never be complete and that we are all here evolving… If I had to isolate a single political thread in any of my ostensibly political pieces, that would be it.
What were some of your greatest accomplishments as an artist?
I’m tempted with this question, to talk about things outside of myself, like the attention or the recognition that I’ve received, like having my work chosen as the flagship piece for the South Korea- US International Contemporary Art show in Seoul during the Olympics. But that’s not an accomplishment, is it? It’s an honor and it’s humbling. It’s a gift and I’m grateful. My father passed away a few months before I was awarded that honor, and I believe he had a hand in the process.
So, to answer your question, I have to go inward. I spend so much time alone in this process that my greatest accomplishments happen in solitude, but my greatest accomplishment as an artist, is getting out of my own way. That may sound strange, but ego and expression are like oil and vinegar to me. I need both to create an incredible salad, but too much of one or the other and it just doesn’t work.
And by “expression” I mean being a channel or a conduit for that undefinable thing that is working and pushing its way through me. The artwork I do is rarely what I initially intended, and I don’t always see how it will come together. But it does. It speaks in shouts and whispers. A friend once told me that there are no mistakes in art, and that’s where the ego-check comes in. Once it’s out of the way, I can observe the work more clearly and refine things as needed.
Truth is, at my best, I’m not even there to experience it and I appreciate the work in hindsight! I remember one of my Native American teachers telling me that it is best to become a hollow tube, because it is only then that the spirit can flow. I think that’s what we’re all chasing. When we look at the guys like Michael Jordan or Michelangelo, they talk about the hard work and then they talk about the flow.
How did you get your first show? What was it like and how did you get the notoriety?
My first shows were vanity shows. I curated them. I rented the spaces or was given use of a great space through friends. I did shows with other artists, created solo shows, promoted them any way I could. Anything and everything. I was a man on fire and I wanted my work to be seen. Nothing could stop me. But you know how it is…You knock on a door and the window opens. A friend took over the old Rubell Museum in Miami and invited me to show my work there. I jumped at the chance, hoping the Rubells would pop in and see my work. Turns out, I made a great connection with the curator of Mitte Projects in Miami, Frances Sinkowitsch, and she took me to the next level, getting me a show at an international gallery in Chelsea.
Do you think it’s possible for people to pursue their dreams when it’s not the practical route and what are your views on that?
I highly recommend it. My views are that you must give yourself to your dreams absolutely, both with and without expectations, and they will give themselves to you. But you have to be honest with yourself. No bullshit! Either you’re working on your dreams or you’re making excuses.
How would you classify your style and what would you say is “highly evolved” art?
Ok, just the term “highly evolved” art sounds very pretentious to me lol…but, that being said, I would describe highly evolved art as that art which moves people from the inside out. It grabs them. It arrests their thinking. It stops their minds and restarts their hearts. Highly evolved art is an awakening and an introduction to your soul – something you cannot forget or properly describe…Do you remember the first time you saw a Van Gogh, or heard that song that still gives you goosebumps to this day? That is some powerful shit and it is authentic and it rings true from generation to generation because truth is eternal … it is recognized and it places you right here in this very moment and gently persuades you to hold your breath without you even knowing it.
What are your future goals for yourself as an artist and healer?
You are right to put these two things together. There is no separation between them. Art is medicine – for the artist and the observer. And if I have one future goal in mind, it is to nurture the trust in myself and the invisible. I want to share this gift with the world, and have my artwork experienced for generations to come.