Phyllis Gorsen, born in Philadelphia, PA, received her MFA from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 2014. Her work has been exhibited nationally, including galleries in New York, Philadelphia, and California. Her exhibitions include a solo show at Boston Street Gallery and a two person exhibition at Hot Bed Gallery in Philadelphia. She has also curated several exhibitions in the Philadelphia region. Over the last couple of years, Gorsen has been featured in many publications including: The Philadelphia Inquirer, ArtBlog, Create! Magazine, the Courier Post, and Glassworks Magazine. Many of her paintings are in collections throughout the United States. Gorsen currently works out of her studio in Philadelphia.
In this body of work, I am bridging a connection to wildlife with fantasized scenes between creature and person. These collage paintings playfully incorporate animals and insects, depicting my desire to become more connected to the natural world. Mankind's demand on natural resources is shrinking the earth's biodiversity, hindering its fragile ability to replenish itself. The mere existence of these animals and insects fortifies the planet, making it a stronger place. We need them. These spirit animals are our guardians. These latest works are my personal reflections of how I would like to be more connected to that which sustains us.
For these collage paintings, I developed a specific technique that achieves a multi-dimensional surface. My process starts with a painted rendering of an image, some fabricated, some referenced from photographs of everyday scenes. Then I use a variety of materials: paint, charcoal, painted paper, canvas, and hand-made papers collected from all over the world. Applying hundreds, if not thousands, of pieces of these materials in multiple layers onto the canvas generates surfaces that are imbued with uncertainty and surprise, giving each painting a life of its own.
Where are you from? Did you grow up in a creative environment?
I was born in Philadelphia and grew up in New Jersey right outside of Philly. I am still in New Jersey, but have a studio in South Philadelphia. I don't know where I came from because I am the complete outlier being the only artistic person in my family. I used to spend hours as a kid holed up in my room making creations out of anything I could get my hands on: rocks, lids, Styrofoam, thread, etc. I got lost in that. I came from a broken home and we struggled financially. My mom always supported my artistic ability by giving me art lessons when I was a kid even though it was a hardship for her. My dad loved museums and took my sister and I to them when we were little. However, he valued pragmatism over passion and discouraged me from choosing art as a career. But I think the creative spirit will always triumph, as it did with me.
Who or what has compelled and/or encouraged you to create your art?
I found my artistic voice pretty organically. Looking at art that I found inspiring and experimenting has brought me to the place I am now. Most of my artistic history is creating figurative works describing patterns of everyday life. I was greatly influenced by David Park, Richard Diebenkorn, Elmer Bischoff, and many other of the Bay Area Artists. I intensely studied their use of color and bold visual language. When I was at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts for my masters, I happened to take a collage class with Ken Kewley, which ended up being more transformative to me than I realized at the time. I had already been working with paper by making abstract collage pieces, which I had no idea what to do with. But that class opened up using collage in the figure. I started incorporating paper in my figurative work, sometimes as collage elements and sometimes as part of a textural surface. After I had been out of school, I made a big shift by experimenting with abstraction and shapes, but I was still interested in symbolizing human connection. Going to abstraction and creating work without references taught me a lot. But after a couple of years, I got stuck in a creative slump. Those moments are invaluable because it is when you are most likely to take chances. Trying to work my way out of that place, I decided to get out my paper again and that is when my biggest breakthrough came. Using collage in a way I had never done before opened up ideas that came from a more primal place for me. I am now feeling excited and full of possibilities of where I can go with my art.
What is the key topic or issue that your work addresses?
The main theme of my work has always been about connection: connection to each other, our internal worlds as well as our external worlds. In my latest body of work, I am bridging a connection to wildlife with fantasized intimate passages, a conjured bond between creature and person. These collage paintings are playful allegories that depict my desire to become more connected to the natural world: the forests, the animals and insects that inhabit it. This was borne from my deepening discomfort of being distant from nature while at the same time knowing that it is becoming progressively more fragile. Our forests and wildlife fortify the planet, making it stronger and more able to nurture humankind. We are deeply and intrinsically linked to each other.
What is your biggest source of inspiration?
I think we have all been aware of the problems that our planet has been facing: the dwindling rainforests, the plastic pollution choking our oceans, the climate change causing catastrophic effects, etc. We know we are facing these issues, yet, we can easily distract ourselves from them. During the isolation in the past two years, I immersed myself in nature shows. I became engrossed learning more about the extent of the earth’s biodiversity and its inability to replenish itself due to mankind’s demands on natural resources. I think people avoid addressing these urgent issues because we are not as connected to the natural world as we should be. So much of our lives today are inside, especially with the pandemic. With instant means available to us to connect anywhere in the world with a touch of a button, it strangely becomes more of an effort to experience any sort of wilderness outside our walls. Yet, it is the untamed part of our world that sustains it and, in turn, sustains us. My inspiration is coming from my personal need to be more connected to our earth.
If you weren’t creating art, what would you be doing?
I probably would be exploring the world more and be more of an activist. Learning another language is on my bucket list, too. I like to think I'll do those things and create art as well.