Visual Art

A Body of Quirk

the unconventional style, flair of Paula Gorski’s art

Caitlin Heidbrink, photos by Andrea Paulseth |

Think about those free-association mind exercises, where someone yells out a word and you’re immediately forced to exert a response; any word that the subconscious relates to what you just heard. Now, imagine doing this with art. The words of your dreams and images related to past experiences in far-away places, transformed into a twisted, fabric-wrapped sculpture or a crazy image. This may give you an idea of how artist Paula Gorski operates.

Her exhibition at the L.E Phillips Public Library is a “full circle” collaboration, as she describes it. Running from Dec. 4 until Jan. 6, her life’s work, the collective inspiration of growing up in Milwaukee, attending UW-Eau Claire, and living in Bolivia, are displayed for the visual consumption of the community.

Narrative paintings, wrapped sculpture, and clever combinations of text and image all speak to the humor and playfulness that Gorski hopes to express. Specifically, her wrapped sculpture originates from her grandmother’s award-winning rag rugs.

“It’s interesting to think of myself as carrying on a tradition because I’m not a very traditional artist,” Gorski said of an influence she considers unconscious.

Abstract and quirky text joins imagery as another one of Gorski’s favorite media. Using t-shirts, game boards, and anything she could dream up, Gorski releases words from her mind no matter how random. Phrases like, “learn to swim in the Pacific,” are meant to be playful and fun for the viewer.

“I get a kick out of my work,” she said, “and I hope people do, too.”

    Through Gorski’s travels, she said her influences come from being an outsider while overseas, observing the cultural differences. She participated in folkloric celebrations, dances, and harvest time in Bolivia, taking notice of their use of sequins and color to incorporate in her art. Gorski said the labor of making these Bolivian celebratory costumes and the tradition behind them was a big inspiration.

“It’s a bridge between my experience here and in Latin America,” she said.

When she first came back from Bolivia, Gorski got involved with performance art as well. Channeling the fluxus movement of the 1970s and artists like Marcel Duchamp and Eva Hesse, she continues to push her own boundaries.

“I’ve always been really interested in putting artwork in unusual places,” she said. During college, Gorski put on an art show in a McDonalds, further communicating the nontraditional approach to communicating her vision.

Gorski’s art is as much about the public’s reaction as it is for her own enjoyment. She said non-artists can understand her work by relating elements like repetition to other traditional arts such as quilting.

 “The idea of connections has always been important to me,” she said.

In addition to connecting with the general public, Gorski’s show includes a host of artists, ranging from an 8-year-old girl to well-established artists in the area. Mark Ruddy, Steve Bateman, and Andy Shafer are just a sampling of the collective creativity bursting from the library’s second floor. She said assembling this group was a celebration and testament to this “great community.”

“This is just a representation of a tiny slice of what Eau Claire has to offer,” Gorski said.

    Paula Gorski and Some People She Has Met Along the Way is on display through Jan. 6 at LE Phillips Memorial Public Library, 400 Eau Claire St., Eau Claire, open 10am to 9pm Monday-Wednesday, 10am to 6 pm Thursday-Friday, 10am to 5 pm on Saturday, and 1-5pm on Sunday.