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Mind of the Artist, Part XXIV: Michael McSorley

February 16, 2018

Our designated Capitol Hill Art League artist of the month, Michael McSorley, has a talent for eyeing the beauty in the everyday objects. His ability to bring to life the sometimes-forgotten tools of our day to day living is stunning and full of easily overlooked personality in each piece. Mike's specific and unique process allows him to pull out color and dimension that may have been easily overlooked before. His quest for challenge and exploration in the world we live in is ongoing and he is a great example of what is means to be a DC artist, living, working, and surrounding your days in art; never forgetting that art can be found everywhere!

I am a painter who graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania with a BA in Fine Art.  I supplemented my education with classes from local and national artists, including Jon Redmond, Mark Boedges, Janet Fish and Wolf Kahn.

I moved to Capitol Hill about 1 ½ years ago from Pittsburgh, and paint full time. In Pittsburgh I worked as an art handler and sub-contractor to museums and private clients.  I also built crates and worked with a conservator. I mostly painted still-lifes, doing single objects on a plain background.


As a child, I filled the margins of my notebooks. Turning circles into spheres, extruding words, creating 3 dimensional objects from any shape; my work reflects that interest. Augmenting the original approach of shading and extruding by introducing concepts of color theory, atmosphere, edge quality and experimentation.

My process of work begins with an drawn image, using graphite and brushed around with turpentine. The background is then blocked in, pulling the graphite into the paint and using it to darken and tone down the edges. This layer is thin and the ground of the board is allowed to reflect back.  This increases the intensity of the color and by brushing, scraping and rubbing; the color can be magnified. Sometimes the graphite lines are still visible in the finished painting and at other times, I redraw the edges with pencil to increase the strength of the line.

In 2014, I had the idea to put some of the still-lifes into a frame as one piece or an Assemblage. The first of these was Possessions and was used by the Westmoreland Museum of American Art for their Peddling Personalities Show that year. This piece was also awarded second place in the Strokes of Genius show at MFA in 2016. A variation of it was recently in the Gallery O on H Seeing Songs show this year.

Upon arriving in DC, my first goal was to get a studio. I obtained one at the Gateway Arts District in Brentwood at the EZ Storage building. From there, I set out in that spring trying a new technique of plein air painting. I did OK with the plein air, winning some awards, including First Place at Paint Berlin in 2016 and Falls Church Plein Air in 2017. The piece Eckington Corner was selected to the Washingtonia Collection in 2016 to be used in the DC city offices.

Currently I am working again on my Assemblages. I’ve created a couple of these at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts during a fellowship I had there in 2015.  I have a show scheduled for June of 2018 that features these at the Art League Gallery in Alexandria.  I am trying to objectify the paintings, treating them the same as one would treat the objects in the painting. Also I am trying to tell a narrative, or a suggestion of a story, much as a poem would.

My studio is now located on H ST. NE. I am able to walk there and I enjoy that aspect of it. Currently, I work part-time at the Phillips as a museum assistant.