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Phyllis Gorsen fills us in on her work, parallel to her Fall ‘22 exhibition with Ekaterina Popova: “Outside In”.

What initially brought you to art?

I think art has been part of my DNA ever since I can remember.  I made the decision to be an artist in 1st grade and never deviated from that.  Although, I took a rather circuitous route to finally be in the kind of practice I always imagined myself to be in.  I was a bond analyst for many years in corporate America before I went back to school to earn my MFA at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 2014. Now I am able to dedicate myself to make the kind of art that feels important to me.


What imagery has historically interested you and why?

I have been infatuated with the Bay Area Figurative artists for a long time.  What captivated me most is that they portrayed everyday scenes in colorful and visually exciting ways.  Those artists like David Park, Richard Diebenkorn and Theophilus Brown, among many others, gave importance to quiet moments by choosing to highlight them in their work.


How has your process evolved in the last 5 to 10 years?

I would categorize myself as a figurative artist for the most part.  During my time at PAFA, I started incorporating paper into my paintings in several different ways: some as collage elements, some as hidden texture on the canvas surface. I used painted paper that I stored in one small bin. After I graduated in 2014, I really started to experiment by exploring geometric abstract art.  I infused a lot of symbolism and representational elements in the work.  They were much more academic and planned versus the more intuitive way I had been painting.  I continued to make figurative work as well. Having two divergent types of work made me feel like I was at a crossroad.  Then three years ago, I took a break from my studio for many months. When I came back, my mind was a blank slate.  So, I took out my bin of paper and created the first of the collage paintings you see today.  I have around 30 bins of paper now.


What, or who, has had the most influence on your work?

 I mentioned the Bay Area Artists as being influential in my work.  I also studied Njideka Akunyili Crosby.  I loved how she infused imagery and collage type elements into her work.  I have to mention Peter Doig as well. 


What has surprised you about your practice?

I’d say 3 things surprise me. 1) I never really thought of myself as a “materials” based artist, but a painter.  But, the materials I am using are central to my work now, so I guess I am a materials person.  2) I never used to have the patience to do the obsessive type of work that I’m doing, so I guess I have become a patient artist.  3) I never considered myself as someone who would make whimsical work, but that’s where I really wanted to go, so, I guess I am an artist whose work contains a whimsical nature.  


What is your identity at large? Do you think about this a lot in relation to your art?

I do think about identity a lot, but not as it applies to my art practice.  My work has always been about connection, trying to find those shared elements that we can all relate to.  My current work is highlighting the connection all of us have with nature.


What is your most precious takeaway from this exhibition?

 I love that Ekaterina Popova and I have created work that explores the same theme, but in divergent ways. Kat’s paintings have the ghost of humanity leaving its thumbprint on nature.  Whereas my work is more direct in showing people actively interacting with nature.  Our work converses with each other beautifully. The reaction we’ve received has been so overwhelming. It makes me think that people really respond to the theme that nature is precious and takes care of us.

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