Award-winning collage artist Gayle Gerson expresses herself through mixed media

Gayle Gerson shows Cynthia Grover some art as she teaches an experimental mixed media class at the Art Center in Grand Junction.

Mixed media artist Gayle Gerson in her studio near the Colorado National Monument with a piece she is changing,


Grand Junction artist Gayle Gerson would never “cut off my ear” like the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh, but she does share some of his personality traits.

She has studied all the old masters and finds she has the most in common with van Gogh. A collection of his letters has been published, and Gerson has read every one of them. 

“He wasn’t afraid to experiment. He followed his own path,” Gerson said.

Nonconformity describes her art journey as well.

For the past 12 years, Gerson has moved from being “a failure” at watercolor painting to working successfully in experimental mixed media.

In watercolor, she explained, the artist is required to work methodically with a distinct set of rules — not her modus operandi.

“If I can think out of the box, I’m probably going to create something more unusual,” she said.

That translates into tearing pieces of paper and gluing them to a background surface. Collage is the term that defines Gerson’s creations; it’s accomplished by pasting or gluing papers or objects onto a surface.

A collector of all types of art materials, she calls herself “a layerist.”

Combining photographs, clippings from magazines and newspapers, crumpled tissue paper and more, Gerson pastes them all down with matte medium, then brushes on glazes of acrylic paint.

“I love putting in little secrets, things no one else would know about, but they have meaning to me.”

Those who practice collage have Pablo Picasso to thank, as Gerson said he’s the one who made it a fine art.

“Then other artists, the dadaists like Marcel Duchamp, took off from there,” she said.

In a nod to France’s Duchamp, Gerson has hanging in her studio a large copy of his 1919 Mona Lisa parody with a mustache and goatee.

Her own works are exhibited at the Blue Pig Gallery in Palisade. Gerson also teaches classes at The Art Center in Grand Junction and has won multiple awards with her art.

Those include honors from the National Collage Society, the Western Colorado Watercolor Society and the Rocky Mountain National Show.

Most recently, Gerson was commissioned to create two original artworks that were given to the towns of Creede and Telluride in a ceremony naming them as recipients of the annual Governor’s Arts Award.  Gerson and her works were recognized by Gov. Bill Ritter at the event at the Denver Art Museum.

The jury that selected Gerson noted the spirit and energy in her work, her use of bright colors and the movement and depth in her compositions. Her collages will hang in public locations in the respective communities. 

At home, Gerson helps her husband, George, with his work as a financial portfolio manager, but she spends part of every day in her basement studio full of art supplies.

They’ve lived near Red Canyon at the base of Colorado National Monument for 21 years, where wildlife frequents their southwest view of spectacular rock formations towering above. 

Coyotes tiptoe close to munch the droppings from Russian olive trees. Hawks, juncos and bunnies flit silently onto the scene. A gnarled juniper stands guard a few feet from Gerson’s expansive studio windows.

Inside, she pours rubbing alcohol straight from the bottle over the top of a large horizontal landscape piece that rests on her easel. Unhappy with the work’s original sheen from a gloss varnish, Gerson said she’s altering the landscape titled “Forest Light II.”

The alcohol drips over her creation, spilling onto the floor that’s covered with a protective mat. She likes the stripped effect left by streams of the alcohol.

That element will remain as she scratches off some other areas.

“There is too much blue on the top part, and I want to make the whole thing less busy,” Gerson said.

The incorporation of digital photographs she takes herself gives personal significance to her art.

Printing these from her computer onto vellum paper, for instance, allows for transparency and ease of application with matte medium. Words of importance also are printed and pasted along with the photos.

Gerson recalled how she once found pieces of discarded roofing paper when walking in the area around her home. Those soon appeared in a mixed media piece titled “Viva Cuba Libre,”  a reminder of a trip to Havana.

The brown paper “looks like Havana, because Havana is so decrepit,” Gerson said.

Her husband, a Cuban native, won’t let Gerson sell that particular piece, she said.

Her art ranges in sizes, but Gerson prefers working on large pieces, such as some 6-foot collages she made for display at Mesa State College. The theme of those is parks in Grand Junction, for which she took the photographs.

Gerson intuitively knows that her natural abilities, like natural plants, need pruning by study. She’s always learning.

Periodically, she enrolls in life drawing and other painting classes. Referring to an earlier professional background in counseling, Gerson talks about her affection for people. Eventually, she wants to paint them.

In fact, she recently did a collage portrait of local historian Dave Fishell for an exhibit titled “Art for Change: Traditional and non-Traditional Portraits of Locals Who Make a Difference.”

Gerson also has created a few self-portraits, one of which is on display this month in a show titled “Skin Deep” at The Art Center in Grand Junction. That exhibit is in conjunction with the center’s watercolor show. In the latter, she entered a piece called “Three Martini Lunch.”

In the meantime, Gerson is working on some commissioned landscapes, pulling pieces of painted, crumpled tissue paper from containers, “harvesting” small areas of a perfect color she likes and pasting them into her compositions.

Her other interests are yoga, knitting, reading and collecting quotations from professional artists, such as Twyla Tharp, a renowned choreographer and modern dancer.

Tharp wrote a book, “The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life.” Tharp’s premise is that creativity is not preordained; rather it’s a habit to be acquired. 

Gerson concurs with that concept and adds, “It’s like brushing your teeth.”

No doubt then, her delight in ripping pieces of paper and pasting them in layers is one habit Gerson won’t be trying to break.


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