With a Wave of Her Digital Wand Corinne Geertsen Animates a Fading World with Fantasy

By Rebecca Pyle for 15 Bytes

The Board of Directors Takes up the Cat Problem by Corinne Geertsen, digital art, digital collage

The Board of Directors Takes up the Cat Problem

Corinne Geertsen’s many-layered art images, which begin as photographs, are magic tricks. They contain ghosts of the photographed past, people wearing clothing time has almost forgotten — derby hats and waistcoats, huge hats covered with flowers, children in proper attire — people, largely, in awe of being photographed, whom we now find funnily over-dressed, over-posed.

Photographs themselves are a magic trick, a magic trick of light and shadow, and preservation. Technology, but a magic trick (as all inventions are, but photographs, exceedingly so.

But we’ve become used to photographs in so many ways, we’ve forgotten their once-miraculousness. What once were miraculous proofs of existence,  now seem black and white and sepia squares and rectangles of almost preposterous, unsmiling, stiffness and loneliness. Faces only a relative could love. Clothes which look stifling, overdone, people trying too hard to look like more than what/who they are.

Bird Apprentice

Then Geertsen came along, found staid old photographs, began mixing photographic and painterly techniques, illusions, and began to magically rescue people, with extreme dramatization, play-acting, and calling on the power of fairy tales. Think of the birds who helped Cinderella; in the Grimms’ tale birds led her to a ballgown by her mother’s grave; in the Disney tale they soared through the air and made her ballgown in front of her very eyes.

Or think of an old Michael Murphy song about a pony named Wildfire – “He busted down his stall/In a blizzard he was lost” – the girl who loves the pony Wildfire goes out into the blizzard, calling out his name, but she perishes, too, and they become ghosts, returning only “on cold Nebraska nights.”

In her work, Corinne Geertsen goes into the white-out blizzard of old history (many of the people in these photographs, according to her artist statement, are images of her own relatives, discovered in Mormon archives) – goes to find people, rescue them, bring them back, make sure they somehow do not fade away, perish. Animals, birds, are her magician’s assistants.

In Geertsen’s “Mute” two women with stolid faces stand next to each other not speaking or communicating in any way; but the young women wear daring, huge, tilted hats, with a monkey atop one and a baboon atop the other, jabbering animatedly. In another image, “Bird Apprentice,” a joyless-looking young man stands with one hand resting on a side table. But his sad look becomes somehow regal, as you see he has one mechanical wing sprouting from one shoulder, and wild birds-of-paradise designs traveling up his formerly dull suit. He’s mythical prince now, looking, in this gear, suddenly, quite a bit like a sulking, sexy, young, Prince Charles.

Game by Corinne Geertsen, digital art, digital collage


Another image: a very small girl in a dress stares at the camera, beside her a rhino, with a tossed giant brass hoop around its lethal horn. On its leathery hide, she’s tallied, with chalk, the number of times she’s sailed the hoop toward that horn while he stood very still and let her rack up a higher score (title: “Game”). Her face is exuberant.

In “Travels with the Queen.” one woman stands brave-faced, about to journey, on the rear platform of a train; but she’s no longer alone; with her are three hulking, real, bears. The magic of being with three bears and a beehive seems to have transformed her clothing: it’s many-striped, sateen, dark brown and gold; she’s not just a woman on a train, but a grown-up Goldilocks, her hair and hat and skin all pale-golden.

Travels with the Queen by Corinne Geertsen, Digital Art, Digital Collage

Travels with the Queen

Seated men in businessmen’s suits of long ago sit not in a boardroom, but a deep meadow, in “The Board of Directors Takes Up the Cat Problem.” Cats on their laps and at their sides, they look – so happy.

In “Tea” a woman in a long gown sees signs, possible, of imminent ocean adventure: an upholstered settee her teacup is placed upon now has many octopus arms curling around its edges; pale green, antique carpets beneath her feet overlap each other in circles, suggesting ocean waves lapping over each other, on a beach.

In “Sanctuary” a mother’s daughter has a strangely beautiful raccoon face; she and raccoon-daughter, dressed in soft forest-green garments, are embracing, though fire is visible just across the river.

The Fox Who Loved Swans by Corinne Geertsen, digital art, digital collage

The Fox Who Loved Swans

Good magicians must not run out of spells; they must always be thinking of new ones. Rescuing a feisty pony who ran into a raging a blizzard almost seems a simple plight, compared to the strangeness of a man with a fox’s head, somehow gliding on ice skates among swans (“The Fox Who Loved Swans,” one of the most beautiful, classic images here). Or, in another fine image, “The Designer,” a conjurement: a flying machine, just like the one a woman is drawing, arcs across the sky above her head, above her feathered pen and ink-pot. Swans apparently approve: in the sky, they follow the new flying machine.

Consider that in the title of Geertsen’s image “She Subscribed to a Bird-Brained Manner of Thinking” the term bird-brained cannot possibly be an insult: consider how many birds are in Geertsen’s work. In this image, three brilliantly-white swans nimbly grasp at tendrils of red ribbon in the air, ribbons on which declarations from fortune-telling games are printed (It is Not Certain; Ask Again; Very Doubtful). Like plucky bluebirds constantly surrounding Snow White, in Disney’s animated film, Geertsen’s white swans here are like a hovering force-field around the happy-looking dark-haired woman in Geertsen’s image.

The Designer by Corinne Geertsen

The Designer

Geertsen, who said in a recent interview that once as a child she “found a horse wandering” near her home, and “I was so in love with animals I grabbed its halter and brought it home – I was convinced it was lost,” really does remind one of the girl and the pony in the blizzard in the song “Wildfire.”

With her magic powers, could she have saved them in the song? As she saves people in her art images, from the obscuring blizzards of time? Could dark owls or ravens, sent by Geertsen, have flown above the girl and “the pony she named Wildfire/Who busted down his stall/And in a blizzard he was lost/While she went crying – Wildfire! Wildfire!” led them back? To stable/house? Away from ghosthood?

Geertsen’s work says, Yes. Of course.

Corinne Geertsen, Meyer Gallery, Park City, Sep. 24 – Oct. 17.

Rebecca Pyle is a writer and an artist with work in dozens of art/literary journals, in the United States and also in journals (in the English language) in India and the United Kingdom and in France and Germany. She graduated from the university the Wizard of Oz adored, the University of Kansas, where she studied art and lit.

New Work at Gebert Contemporary in Scottsdale!

Come enjoy the Gebert Contemporary in Scottsdale Arizona and see my new work. There’s a lot of other great art to check out too.

The Bird House by Corinne Geertsen

The Bird House

Exiles by Corinne Geertsen


Portable Safari by Corinne Geertsen

Portable Safari

All I Ever Wanted

The Designer

The Designer by Corinne Geertsen

The Designer

“The Designer” is about a woman with a talent for flying machines. Here she is at work, with one of her designs overhead. I almost never show people from the back. This way, you can look over her shoulder without disturbing her.

Her tattoos are swallows. If I were to get tattoos, I’d choose these.


When in Santa Fe, visit Pop Gallery

Corinne Geertsen & Sharla Throckmorton-McDowell, owner Pop Gallery, with my work “Emissary”

I’m now represented by Pop Gallery in Santa Fe. I’m delighted. Pop Gallery is a must in Santa Fe. As an artist, I have a lot of art on my walls, yet I found something I couldn’t do without and made a purchase.

Pop is a high spirited gallery with some of my favorite artists.

While we’re all staying at home, come visit us on Instagram: @corinnegeertsen, @popgallery505.

Deer Gardener

Deer Gardener by Corinne Geertsen, digital art, digital collage

Deer Gardener

Deer Gardener and other works will be in the show “The New Vanguard” at Keep Contemporary Gallery in Santa Fe, February 21 -March 15. You’re invited!

She Subscribed to a Bird-Brained Manner of Thinking

She Subscribed to a Bird-brained Manner of Thinking by Corinne Geertsen

She Subscribed to a Bird-brained Manner of Thinking

Did you ever ask a Magic 8-Ball an important question? Best not to.

It’s best to trust your own judgement.

This work was in “Certain Women”, a group show in Salt Lake City, Utah last summer where it won Best in Show and the Exponent Award. It’s now on its way to an Arts festival in Dallas. She gets around!


Intermission by Corinne Geertssen


It’s been a very exciting first act and the troupe needs a break. Come back for the second act after we tidy up a bit.

Art & Life with CORINNE GEERTSEN Voyage Phoenix

Today we’d like to introduce you to Corinne Geertsen.

Corinne, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
I always drew. I began with a purple crayon in a closet.

My dad was a psychologist in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Psychologists then would show people sets of psychologically loaded drawings and ask them to make up a story about each picture. I thought these drawings were very powerful and I was fascinated by the ties between the vivid images and stories. Because of this, I’m able to move between storyline and image and back again as I work, embellishing with psychological twists.

I’ve always loved old photos. My great-great-grandfather was a partner for a time with the photographer George Edward Anderson, who traveled Utah from 1878 to 1928. Many of my family’s old photos were taken by him. His portraits bring out the individuality of his subjects, often in a startling way. Many of them look as if they were taken yesterday. I often use these photos in my work.

Animals are essential in my life and work. When I was seven, I dragged a horse home and put him in the backyard, in case he was lost. I’ve always had animals by my side. I like to have odd human/animal partnerships in my works, which often reveal what it’s like to be human.

Can you give our readers some background on your art?
I make digital photo collages. I assemble my works in Photoshop from photos of my ancestors, photos I take myself, and things I paint and then photograph. I make ancestor adoptions at antique stores. My personal photo archive contains over 50,000 images and is still growing.

In 2006, I took a Photoshop course to restore old family photos. Two weeks into the class I began seeing my ancestors as characters in dramas. Obviously, Aunt Hattie needed a rhinoceros.

I’m on a constant photographic scavenger hunt, outfitting ancestors with backdrops, sidekicks and belongings.

Working digitally dovetails nicely with the way my mind works. I worked over the years in many different media, not quite finding one that fit my voice. When I found Photoshop, I felt I had discovered the other half of the map.

My work spans more than a century and a half of technology. I use Civil War and Victorian era studio portraits as source material, yet I use digital cameras and work on a computer with massive memory, deep within the intricacies of Photoshop. I enjoy the contrasts and challenges of working with multiple technologies.

I print my work myself in small editions on archival photo paper with pigment inks.

My images are quirky visual narratives. I like a good plight. My art leans toward surrealism with odd juxtapositions, non-sequiturs, and an element of surprise.

What I hope people take away from my work:

  1. My work mirrors personal, political and global situations in a sly way.
  2. My work is about humor, fear, rescue, wonder, curiosity, individuality, absurdity. It’s about living. I want someone to look at my work and feel deeply what it is to be alive.

Artists rarely, if ever pursue art for the money. Nonetheless, we all have bills and responsibilities, and many aspiring artists are discouraged from pursuing art due to financial reasons. Any advice or thoughts you’d like to share with prospective artists?
Find work that leaves you with time to make your art. Find a job adjacent to the art world if possible.

Subscribe to and take advantage of the AZ Commission on the Arts Opportunities Newsletter.

Find artists in your area and work to form a tight-knit artist community. Support your peers.

Work continuously. Enjoy your creativity.

What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
My work can be seen at Gebert Contemporary in Scottsdale, Arizona, Haven Gallery in Northport, New York, Meyer Gallery in Park City, Utah and the Phillips Gallery in Salt Lake City.

My work will be in a group exhibition “We Believe” at the Shemer Museum in Phoenix from October 11th to November 8th, 2018.

I have a solo show at the Phillips Gallery in Salt Lake City October 19th to November 9th, 2018.

Benefit Concert by Corinne Geertsen

Benefit Concert

Deer Gardener by Corinne Geertsen, digital art, digital collage

Deer Gardener

Founding Members of the Wildlife Society by Corinne Geertsen, digital art, digital collage

Founding Members of the Wildlife Society

Singing Lesson by Corinne Geertsen

Singing Lesson

Stopping by Woods Corinne Geertsen Digital Art

Stopping by Woods

The Blessing by Corinne Geertsen

The Blessing

The Board of Directors Takes up the Cat Problem Corinne Geertsen

The Board of Directors Takes up the Cat Problem

The Kiss by Corinne Geertsen, Digital Art, Digital Collage

The Kiss

Click to download PDF of article.

Benefit Concert

Benefit Concert by Corinne Geertsen

Benefit Concert

Here’s a freshly finished work, “Benefit Concert”. While I was working, I was thinking about the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries at the Cluny Museum in Paris. They’re about the six senses and are done in the  mille-fleurs  (thousand flowers) style. I’ve loved them since I saw them and I’m excited to reference them in one of my works.

Here’s the Cluny tapestry about hearing:

Hearing, Cluny tapestry

I have a solo show at The Phillips Gallery in Salt Lake City October 19th until November 9th. The opening is the evening of October 19th. You’re invited! Benefit Concert will be in the show.

The Kiss

The Kiss by Corinne Geertsen, Digital Art, Digital Collage

The Kiss

The Kiss: a reckless moment, out of control, but headed in the right direction. On December 7th, 2015 I sat in our backyard and took 57 photos of grackles in flight. These are my favorite individual birds from those photos, made into a custom flock. Click on the photo to see it a bit bigger. When I began this work, its title was “Transported”. A friend suggested “Pining”.  Sometimes you just have to call a kiss a kiss.