Featured Artist - Phyllis Fast

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"Self Portrait of Phyllis Fast"
mixed media collage, 22" x 17.5"

Self portraits are one of my best tools in healing. Through healing dreams I can look at what I am in emotional pain and psychological confusions. Born in 1946 to a Koyukon Athabascan mother from Rampart and a white man from Kansas, I grew up in Anchorage, Alaska. At the time of my birth there were more Alaska Native people than non-Native people in Alaska. After the influx of newcomers in the past five decades only 16 percent of Alaska's population is now Native. In addition, United States cultural attitudes toward people of color has been threatened and forced into radical change. As a result of all of these influences, my perceptions of myself as a Native woman have changed with each passing year. The course of my academic and artistic career has resonated with interior analyses of these perceptions.

In 1968 I graduated from the University of Alaska with a degree in English that did absolutely no good in getting a job or being promoted. Sunday painting, many art courses and summer watercolor workshops relieved much of the growing anger and tensions I experienced. Meanwhile, I worked as a secretary. After 17 years it finally occurred to me to try graduate school. I got an interdisciplinary degree in Alaska Native Literary Forms from the University of Alaska, and went from there to Harvard for a Ph.D. in Anthropology. At this time I have completed all degree requirements except the final draft of my dissertation. The reading and boggling thinking required for graduate work requires growing and contorting all brain cells. I found that painting for several hours every week— especially the day before a test— enhances all necessary neurological functions, and I did well on the tests… much better than in my undergraduate days.

The changes affected my artwork in good ways. Where muddy colors destroyed watercolor painting after painting, now I let it go, and enjoy the thought events that each painting evokes. Now I paint to explore, then enhance or purge the emotional or psychological subtext in my writing. This has helped tremendously in my efforts to discover who I am as an Athabascan woman of the nineties.


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