What does it mean to play with an idea?

For Mary Gordon McFall, it means experiment with it from every angle.

Gordon McFall uses art to explore sense of place and play. Gordon McFall, a K-State graduate who moved back to Manhattan this spring after getting her master’s degree from the University of Georgia, said she realized after leaving Kansas how much the landscape influenced her work.

“The prairie landscape, the ratio of sky to land with the sky open and the hills being rolling, it has influenced my work from a compositional standpoint,” she said. “When I was in Georgia, everything felt more closed in.”

Gordon McFall was born in Germany to a military family and moved around a bit before the Army sent her father to Fort Riley when she was a child.

Gordon McFall’s time in Georgia was cut a little short this spring when classes went virtual because of the coronavirus pandemic. Gordon McFall said it was disappointing to not share in final exhibitions with her classmates, and she had to adjust quickly to an online version of her final project.

“Everything went online, and I had to scramble to document my work,” she said.

One of Gordon McFall’s recent projects reflected the unusual time of the pandemic. She found old photographs of children playing on a playground and realized that wasn’t happening. She used shapes in her prints to create imaginary playgrounds that reflected this contrast and the empty play structures she saw this spring.

“In those photographs, kids were playing and laughing,” she said. “It was the complete opposite of what I was seeing in March and April. I wanted to combine these two vastly different moments in time.”

Gordon McFall, 30, said she likes to incorporate playful elements like this into her work, and that it echoes her creative process. She compares it to collage and experiment with pieces to create a new whole.

“With whatever I do, whether it’s on paper or assemblages, I think from it all from collage mentality, where I’m piecing remnants together and working impulsively,” she said.

Her main area of study was printmaking, which entails manipulating ink on a surface that is then printed onto paper. She said she enjoys it because it is tactile and versatile. Within the broad umbrella of pressing of an image onto paper, the medium can include screenprinting, relief images, letterpress and more.

“Your hand is in the whole process, and there’s an element of surprise of pulling the paper off after it goes through the press,” Gordon McFall said.

Katharina Bossman studied printmaking with Gordon McFall at K-State and became a close friend.

She said Gordon McFall is a dedicated artist and understands how to simplify something to its basic parts.

“When she really takes on a subject, she has brought it down to its essence so you can understand what her mind is thinking,” Bossman said.

She said Gordon McFall notices small details and is able to communicate them through her art.

“She turns it inside out and upside down and looks at it from every single angle,” Bossman said.

When she started college, Gordon McFall was reluctant to study art at first. Her family and friends encouraged her to pursue it and supported her because she had a passion for it.

“I avoided studying art for a while because I didn’t think it was practical,” she said. “Eventually it was what I really wanted to study. I didn’t quite know which field besides art I would pursue, so I avoided it until I knew I had to jump in.”

As a graduate student, she also had the opportunity to teach and share that passion with students who had it.

“The excitement I had, I was able to see that in my students,” she said.

Now that she’s back in Manhattan, she’s working on creating a new home studio with her new husband, Taylor McFall, who she married in August. He’s a musician, and she said although they work in different media, they can bond over creativity.

“While we have different ways our minds work, we can connect on the overlap of art and music,” she said.

Gordon McFall has pieces for sale as part of Manhattan Arts Center’s annual Wrap It Up sale as well as a few pieces in the Visions of the Flint Hills exhibition at Buttonwood Art Space in Kansas City. Sales there benefit Friends of Konza Prairie, which promotes educational research and experiences at the Konza Prairie.

Getting into a field that she once thought might be “impractical,” Gordon McFall realized there are many definitions of success, and she’s starting to get a sense of what it means to her at this moment.

“For right now, it means being able to make stuff,” she said.

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