Phyllis Green makes sculptural, often wearable and performative, objects that interact directly with the body and its energies with philosophical, political and spiritual questions in mind. From garments based on Vedic parables of identity and journey, to witty, ritual-ready conceptual furniture, multisensory studies in perception and physical space and gender-centric reworkings of modernist fine art tropes, Green roots all her practice in the experience of the body — both her own and its collective representation. A virtual exhibition comprising a new video piece taking a closer look at the past several years of her garment-based series is currently live at the El Camino College art gallery website.
L.A. WEEKLY: When did you first know you were an artist?
PHYLLIS GREEN: I spent a lot of time drawing as a young child. When I started school, teachers and fellow students admired my drawings and labeled me as an artist. I was the student called on to make the posters and illustrations for holidays and special events all through elementary school.
What is your short answer to people who ask what your work is about?
Though I have worked in performance, installation and video, I am primarily a sculptor who represents the body. I question the nature of objects and their social context, using a wide range of materials and fabrication techniques, navigating between what an object looks like and its metaphorical content.
What would you be doing if you weren’t an artist?
Teacher/scholar or medical doctor.
Did you go to art school? Why/Why not?
I went to art school eventually. In my high school, there were no art classes. I was a good writer and a voracious reader so I enrolled at The University of Manitoba in liberal arts. After I completed my BA as an English major, I began taking college-level art classes. Initially, I wanted to learn technique and basic theory. I observed that art school was where people with my abilities and aspirations congregated, so I became a student at the Vancouver School of Art (now Emily Carr College of Art and Design). I rented a small space in a group studio. In a short time, I was committed to a career as an artist.
Why do you live and work in L.A., and not elsewhere?
I was living in Vancouver, British Columbia when I decided I wanted to earn a graduate degree in art. I moved to Southern California in 1977 and enrolled in a program at Cal State Fullerton. I transferred to an MFA program at UCLA two years later and moved to L.A. I was captivated by the lively and diverse art scene I experienced in Los Angeles. It seemed full of possibilities and the weather was great, so I stayed.
When was your first show?
One of my sculptures was included in a national group exhibition in Canada in 1976. Early in my California years, I used to return to Vancouver for the summers. I believe I had my first solo exhibition there in the summer of 1979, when I was still in grad school. I have been showing ever since.
When is/was your current/most recent/next show or project?
My first-ever virtual exhibition opened recently. A few years ago, I was scheduled for a solo exhibition in the gallery at El Camino College in Torrance. Because of COVID-related closures, the exhibition was postponed a number of times. As recently as March 2021, Susanna Meiers, the gallery director, was not sure if the gallery would be open in September or not, so I opted to make my show virtual. When I learned that no work would be installed in the gallery at all, I decided to present a video that would focus on the clothing/costume related pieces I have made since 2014. I worked on the project over the summer with videographer/filmmaker Waleska Santiago. The 30 minute video, titled DRESS UP: Constructing Other Selves 2014-21, is composed of still images and a few video clips. These include images of related work from my earlier years as well as recent work. A link to the entire exhibition is live on the El Camino College website until February 13.
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